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Loyalty & Retention

How to Prepare for the Holiday App Stores Rush

Alex Walz  //  November 17, 2014  //  6 min read

As in the past few years, the newest tablets and smartphones are going to be the big gift for many this holiday season. Between Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas Day, and Black Friday/Cyber Monday (after everyone ‘gifts themselves’ new tech treats a little early to take advantage of early price reductions), people all over the world will boot up, charge up, and start loading new apps on to their new tablets and phones.

As a result, app stores across the board receive huge spikes in traffic and app download requests. According to a recent Flurry report, Christmas day sees a 91 percent increase in app downloads, as compared to an average day in the first half of December.

Seasonality of the app marketplace: Mobile commerce peaks in the Q4 holiday season.

Seasonality of the US mobile market: Mobile commerce peaks in the Q4 holiday season.

In recent years, the combination of the holiday break at Apple and the increased demand for new apps has created a notable point of concern for app developers, marketers, and mobile product managers… the ‘App Store Freeze.’

In anticipation of the surge of new submissions, updates, and App Ratings and Reviews flowing in to iTunes, Apple would ‘freeze’ its app ratings and version update listings for a period of time in order to work through the backlog of new data.

The Ratings and Reviews component of the ‘freeze’ came as a blessing and a curse to app marketers. Mobile marketers ahead of their game could take advantage of the ‘freeze’ by attempting to boost their Ratings right before they were temporarily ‘locked in’ through advertising blitzes and holiday sales. Consequently, app publishers with more organic app store ratings and reviews optimization strategies were bumped down right before the ‘freeze’ – and stuck in that unfavorable position for anywhere between eight hours to one week.

For better or worse, the App Store Ratings Freeze is largely a thing of the past. In 2013 Ratings updates were locked for approximate eight hours, while any Ratings freeze this year is predicted to be negligible.

Dwindling duration of the infamous App Store Freeze

Dwindling duration of the infamous ‘App Store Freeze’

However, there are a still a variety of key considerations for mobile developers and marketers around the end-of-year holiday time period. Notable among these is the continued presence of the Apple iTunes Connect Holiday Shutdown – during which new app versions will not be processed through the App Store until after the Apple Holiday break.(See next paragraph.) We have assembled a few new tips to ensure that you ride smoothly through these exciting – but choppy – waters ahead for the next six weeks. As you seek to leverage the opportunity to delight customers who will be searching for new apps and trying out your app for the first time on their new mobile devices, we hope you find the following advice useful.

Plan early – especially regarding your app version and pricing updates.

While the App Ratings ‘freeze’ is no longer a main concern, app publishers should still be aware of – and plan around – the iTunes Connect Holiday Shutdown. This is the time Apple iTunes and App Store developers are typically away on vacation, preventing manual changes to app version updates in the App Store. The 2014 shutdown dates will be announced shortly, though publishers can anticipate something along the lines of Dec 20 – Dec 26/27 this year (in accordance with the duration and span of the 2013 dates).

During the expected iTunes Connect Shutdown, no new apps or updates will be added to the App Store and prices and descriptions for existing apps cannot be changed. Front-end functionalities of the App Store, including updates to app rankings, will be unaffected however. In preparation for the App Store Shutdown, we recommend submitting holiday updates and pricing changes by the first week of December to give ample buffer time for review and approval.

Holiday App Store Shutdown Dates

2013 dates for the App Store Holiday Shutdown Dates, when no new submissions will be approved by Apple – Not to be confused with the App Store Ratings Freeze, when app ratings were historically locked in place

The Google Play Store does not have a scheduled holiday shutdown (of which we are aware – if you know about one coming this year, please update everyone in the Comments). Android update submissions are typically made live within 24 hours. However, we would still recommend planning any app new submissions or version updates well in advance of the 3rd week of December to ensure that neither you nor your new Android device customers miss the ‘unboxing’ windows this year.

Similarly, if your new year resolution contains anything about SDK integrations or setting up mobile customer engagement programs, consider getting an early start while things are still relatively quiet in the time leading up to the holidays. This way, you can start to capture customer data during the busiest time of the year and use the start of the new year to focus on providing an incredible customer experience rather than working through a backlog of integrations.

Dress for the occasion.

There’s a reason retail stores play holiday music through all of December and most of November. Research has shown that holiday music and themes can increase the amount of time consumers spend in a store, their intention to revisit, and their intention to make a purchase.

The same goes for apps.

In addition to providing another opportunity to delight your mobile customers, holiday themes are an effective way to increase engagement and click-through rates. Capturing the holiday spirit may also provide opportunities for increased exposure if your app lands on an app store’s list of top holiday picks or in a festive industry round-up of ‘best in show’ holiday apps.

Consider holiday specials, but don’t sacrifice value for rank.

Everyone loves a deal, but make sure your holiday pricing aligns with your business goals. In the days of the App Store freeze, publishers would greatly discount their app’s price to boost its perceived value – and consequently, its ratings – right before Apple would freeze its listing of top-rated apps. With the much shorter duration of the freeze, tricks like this are much less effective and publishers should be careful of pricing below their cost of acquisition.

Before heading into the holidays, know your metrics inside and out – what it costs you to acquire a customer, and how much revenue you generate for each engaged user. Once you know these metrics, you can plan better plan your holiday strategy around maximizing either new user volume or your average revenue per user (ARPU).

Want help setting goals and driving revenue? Check out our free guide, The Math of the App Business.

Make that first impression a good one.

Customer Service departments are notoriously overworked during the holiday season. In the app world, customer service can be put on the back burner entirely as staff depart for their own holiday vacations or are simply spread too thin to accommodate the sudden spike in traffic. However, publishers that set themselves apart by delivering an exceptional customer experience to the onslaught of new users will be rewarded in spades in the form of customer loyalty and retention.

Don’t let the first impression your customer has be a buggy one – empower them with the tools to openly communicate any issues or suggestions before they make their way to the ratings page. The cost of acquiring a new customer is significantly greater than the cost of retention, so creating an engaging customer experience from the get-go this holiday season will make the year ahead that much easier.

Continue your campaign well into the new year.

The holiday opportunities last long beyond the initial holidays. It’s important to remember that user acquisition is just the first step in your journey.

New gadget holders are swamped with an endless list of new app recommendations from the moment they unwrap their shiny new toys. As a result, it may be hard to shine past the clutter as a must-download. In order to stay top of mind, consider investing in a longer-term retention or re-targeting campaign to nurture users into engaged and profitable customers long after the initial excitement of the holidays has waned.

Have any other tips? Share them with @Apptentive and we’ll pass them along! Until then, happy holiday planning!

About Alex Walz

Apptentive's resident wordsmith, Alex can frequently be found cranking away at eBooks or scrawling down ideas late into the night from a local coffee shop. He's an avid traveler, coffee connoisseur, and tech enthusiast, and he shares his thoughts on each over Twitter.
View all posts by Alex Walz >

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