7 ways small businesses can benefit from mobile apps

Small business, mobile marketing and customer experience experts share their tips and advice regarding how mobile applications can help businesses to better engage with customers, keep employees connected and boost the bottom line.

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As many small businesses now know, to stay competitive these days, you need to be mobile. But being mobile is not just about having a mobile-friendly website. (Though if you are a retail or service business, having a mobile website is a must.) It means connecting with on-the-go customers and employees – and helping mobile customers and employees to connect with you (and each other). And these seven mobile applications can help small and midsized businesses do just that.

[ Related: 6 cloud services for growing your small business ]

1. Mobile geo-targeting (marketing & sales). With the rise of beacons and geo-targeting, “it’s become increasingly easy to target key users with location-specific, time-sensitive messages via mobile apps,” says Johan den Haan, CTO, Mendix. “For example, by integrating geo-location technology into a mobile application, businesses can send special offers to customers who are in close proximity to stores.”

“By using this approach, small businesses can decrease spend, narrow their focus and deliver targeted ads to consumers at the right time and place,” adds Roger Hurni, chief creative officer & managing partner, Off Madison Ave.

[ Related: 15 ways to improve your email marketing campaigns ]

Furthermore, “combining geo-fencing with SMS texts allows you to connect immediately with customers who are near your business,” says Ashley Orndorff, market research analyst & copywriter, Visual Impact Group. “Set it up for your loyal customers and send them a text about a sale built just for them, a special event or a flash sale when they are oh-so-conveniently close to your store. You'll make them feel special, and by leveraging both exclusivity and scarcity, they'll be more likely to stop in for a purchase or two.”

2. Mobile customer loyalty programs. “Create a mobile app for your loyalty rewards program,” says Orndorff. “Customers who download the app get access to exclusive deals, early bird specials and more.” To make the app even more effective, survey customers (or have the app do it) to find out which rewards they prefer. “Not only do you obtain valuable information to better your business and offers, but your customer feels more appreciated and valued as well,” she says. It also “increases engagement and revenue.”

“Punch cards have long been away to reward loyal customers, with some success, but prove to be frustrating for both the seller and the customer in tracking the punch card (punches, purchases, lost cards and zero purchase reporting),” says Dawn Crowder, owner, Carolina Clover, which sells jewelry and gifts. “We sought a smarter mobile solution for both the customer, who is always carrying her phone and loves a good coupon, and us the seller to gain insight to our loyal customers and communicate with them and reward them,” she explains.

“Our customers make a qualifying purchase in our store [and] gain a punch through the mobile app that counts toward a larger reward after 10 punches, [when] they receive pre-programmed coupons,” she continues. “For example, if they check in on social media they can receive a coupon on their store purchase that day through a push notification.” Through the app, customers also receive a birthday coupon and “we’ve missed you” coupons if they haven’t shopped at Carolina Clover in a while. “It is all automated with options we can turn on and off, which we love and is definitely a smarter solution to the old paper punch card.”

3. Mobile scheduling and reminders. If you are a service business, such as a salon or an exercise studio, use a mobile app to allow customers to make appointments or sign up for classes via their smart phone or tablet. Then use text or SMS messaging to confirm appointments or classes and to send reminders.

4. Mobile payments. “You may have noticed [Square,] the little white [cube used for mobile payments], migrating from farmer’s markets to businesses of all kinds,” says Craig Bloem, founder,  FreeLogoServices.com. Square, and similar mobile payment solutions, “allows small businesses to swipe credit cards and handle other business transactions via phone, tablet or even a sleek point-of-sale stand. It is a big timesaver – no need for a bulky register or customized payment system. [And] it allows businesses to take payments on the go in seconds.”

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