The state of branded apps in SA

05 October 2017 ‐ 10min read

At 4i we believe that the quality of a product can significantly increase its chance for success and with product quality being defined as a combination of features, design and technology it is difficult to put a measure on the quality.

The reason for this is that the perfect match of these three factors coupled with a budget and specific timeline make up a great product.

Traditionally in South Africa, we have had app award ceremonies where a panel of journalists weigh in on their opinion of what a good app is. Although this serves a specific purpose in the industry, at the end of the day what matters most is what the actual users of the app think of it. Users of apps are ruthless when it comes to app reviews and we believe there is no better way to measure product quality than to ask users what they think. After all, if they love it, they will continue to use it, if they believe it is useless they will remove it from their device.

...there is no better way to measure product quality than to ask users what they think.

As app users ourselves we have always felt that the most branded apps in SA (where a branded app is an app built by a brand) lacked the quality of the apps we have become used to. Apps such as Facebook, Whatsapp, SnapChat, Instagram and many other that originate primarily from the USA, have made us used to apps offering a certain level of usefulness, tech quality and usability. And it’s this level of quality that we have come to expect of apps and at which we rate apps made by local brands. So we set out on a journey to uncover what South African app users think about our local branded apps by using data most easily obtained, user ratings and feedback.

What we did is look at a selection of branded apps that originate from South Africa and particularly, the percentage of users that rated the app 1 out of 5. We call this percentage the useful rating and is founded on the fact that if a user gives an app 1 out of 5, it’s either not working, or the user sees no use for it. Infact we believe that brands with a low useful rating, should rather remove their apps from the store as keeping it there does more damage than good.

Across all South African apps analysed, 33% of the ratings in the last 90 days were 1 out of 5.

The report does not make for pretty reading. Apart from solid performance in e-commerce by Spree, Superbalist and Takealot, Capitec in the banking sector, Mr D Food in food delivery and the SPAR app in FMCG retail, almost no apps come close to their international counterparts. Across all South African apps analysed, 33% of the ratings in the last 90 days were 1 out of 5. In addition, only a handful of apps made in SA scored above an average rating of 3.5. Considering the amount of bad ratings it is evident that most South African brands are not getting it right when it comes to making users of their apps (or customers) happy.

So why is it that South African branded apps perform so badly? We believe the following factors contribute:

Use of inexperienced internal teams

Building a mobile app is different enough to any kind of other software to warrant getting someone that has experience in building it. From our experience many brands opt to use an existing internal technical team to build the app. This is a huge gamble, not only from a time and product quality point of view, but also in scoping the app. As is evident in the report, users are ruthless when it comes to rating the apps and one needs a team of experienced analysts, developers, designers and strategists working together to build an app that users will love.

Use of agencies and consulting firms that do not have a core focus on apps

Many digital agencies and large international consultancy firms pitch for app development work even though it is not the core focus, after all they believe that having web development capabilities and a designer is all that is required to build an app. And although this could get the job done, it won’t necessarily lead to building a great product. The role mobile apps play in our lives are different to that of any other software so when designing these apps, care needs to be taken to understand the nuances. In addition, as is evident in user reviews, subpar quality tech choices and subpar tech execution leads to product failure almost every time.

...subpar quality tech choices and subpar tech execution leads to product failure almost every time.

Not valuing user feedback

Bad app store ratings across the board show that brands do not take user feedback seriously. Infact many apps have been left untouched for months with tons of bad ratings giving the impression that the app was only built to tick a box and not to help the brand gain an advantage.

Brands should instead of viewing an app build as a once of project, view it as a journey in which they unpack various elements that make up something that adds value to their business by making users happy. This journey involves launching fast, keeping it simple, being agile and most importantly stay close to user feedback to incorporate where applicable.

Bad app store ratings across the board show that brands do not take user feedback seriously.

The process should be more like a science experiment

Just as every brand is unique in its offering, infrastructure and strategy so should your mobile app be. In general most brands are simply copying an existing app instead of crafting a unique experience from day one. In the report we analysed the Mr D Food app and looking at the uniqueness of the app, coupled with really solid tech, one can see why it scored really well. The app is not trying to do what uberEATS is doing, but instead they crafted a food ordering experience that is unique to South African market and specifically the way their business works. So instead of following a very rigid, step by step, process, creativity should be encouraged by allowing team members to explore the topic and the problem to be solved to come up with something truly unique. We believe that crafting such a great app is similar to being in a lab and trying various materials together to ultimately solve a specific problem. For this process to be successful it is more important to put subject matter experts, experienced scientists, the materials and the environment together than it is to follow very strict, step by step process. It's in this adventurous playful environment, coupled with the experience the team brings, that unique products are created. A challenge with this is that it is more culture than it is process and crafting such a culture requires time, patience and the right team. Something that brands often don’t have the luxury to take time to build.

We believe that branded apps can play a significant role in making customers happy all while driving certain business objectives. If done right, these apps can be a key differentiator for a brand in a sea of badly executed apps, a good one can stand out.

The “State of branded apps in SA” report features a detailed review of branded apps in South Africa across 13 sectors compared with the ratings of a US counterpart in the same category. These sectors include among other, retail, banking, financial services, entertainment and travel. To get a copy of the “State of branded apps in SA” report please enter your email address below.