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2020 Mobile App Engagement Benchmark Report

Apptentive’s annual mobile app engagement benchmark report serves as a baseline to help app publishers across categories understand their app’s engagement strengths and areas for improvement.

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App Store Ratings and Reviews: What Causes Differences Between iOS and Android?

Ashley Sefferman  //  June 11, 2020  //  6 min read

Consumers are skeptical of digital marketing, and peer recommendations in the form of app store ratings and reviews stand alone as the single greatest driver of discovery and conversion. Thanks to regulations like GDPR and CCPA, consumer privacy has moved to the forefront of marketing and product development, and a trusted recommendation in the form of a rating or review carries more weight than ever.

Although ratings and reviews universally hold value, the competitive landscapes for iOS and Android apps are vastly different. Mobile app ratings and reviews strategies look very different depending on which app store you’re competing in.

To learn what causes differences — and to give feedback on which strategies work for each app store —, we looked at 812 iOS and Android apps with 5,000+ active users (see the full report here). Specifically, this post answers the questions:

  • Why are there more star ratings for iOS apps than for Android apps?
  • Why are there more reviews for Android apps than iOS apps?

App Store Ratings: iOS vs. Android

The volume of star ratings in iOS apps grew by 158% from 2018 to 2019. The median volume of iOS app star ratings increased 260%. The volume of star ratings for Android apps increased by 44% from 2018 to 2019. The median volume of Android app star ratings increased 108%.

Average Volume of Star Ratings per App

It’s likely that the 2019 ratings increases were impacted by three main factors:

  1. Changes in publisher behavior. The difference in having an in-app ratings prompt is now a major factor in encouraging ratings. First, publishers reset their apps’ all-time ratings and reviews more in 2018 than in 2019, which likely skewed the average numbers down. Second, there were more new apps published on the market in 2018, which could have drug down averages that then moved up in 2019.
  2. Changes in Apple’s behavior. 2018 was a chopping block year for Apple, which decreased the overall ecosystem numbers. We’ve watched them rebuild in 2019, which potentially contributed to the increases we see in the data.
  3. The user base between iOS and Android is different. Engagement means people are involved in the process, but it doesn’t mean they’re happy. When we see lower numbers, it doesn’t mean they aren’t engaged, it just means they have more of an opinion and are harder to please. This applies more toward younger generations who have grown up in the digital space and are used to providing all types of digital feedback.

To go further in understanding the disparity between app store ratings, we first must understand the nuance between industries. When it comes to five-star apps, Shopping (81%) as an industry is competitive in a way that Media (65%) isn’t. For example, you are more likely to download the app of a new store than you would be to explore a new news source. Food and Drink (78%) falls closer to the competitive side, where consumers are more likely to download and use multiple apps.

iOS App Store Ratings by Category

The data looks similar in the Google Play store, where Shopping still leads the pack in five-star reviews (71%), and Media comes in last (56%). The disparity between five-star ratings across in the Travel (66%), Finance (65%), Lifestyle (58%), and Food and Drink (56%) categories is slightly more constrained, with percentages ending up closer together.

Android App Store Ratings by Category

Looking at the above data on star distribution across app categories, we’re reminded of one of the foundations Apptentive was founded on years ago: Consumers use the app stores to give feedback on content or company rather than the app itself, and that doesn’t help app publishers improve their experiences. For example, consumers of Media apps tend to leave comments around topics of news coverage or shifting political climates more than they do about their experience with the app.

The takeaway is star ratings and reviews absolutely still matter to app health, but when it comes to understanding customer sentiment, they are one small piece of a very large puzzle all apps must figure out in order to get ahead.

App Store Reviews: iOS vs. Android

The volume of iOS reviews per app increased by 35% from 2018 to 2019. The median volume increase of iOS apps was 31%. Android also saw a heavy increase in the volume of reviews at 52% across the same time period. The median volume increase for Android apps was drastic, at 110%.

Average Volume of Reviews per App

In general, there have always been more reviews in Android than in iOS, mostly due to the demographic differences of their customer bases. Android users tend to be younger and much more likely to feel involved in the process. Because of this, they’re also typically more critical (e.g. give lower ratings and more critical reviews).

But since the release of iOS 11, we’ve also seen a downturn in the number of iOS reviews because the rating process was simplified. Because of how seamless leaving feedback on iOS apps now feels, customers feel like they’re “done” with the process after providing a rating, thus leaving fewer reviews. In Android apps, people are made to leave the app in order to complete a rating and review, which makes them feel like more is required of them in order to complete their task. In iOS apps, the experience is not disrupted and they are not taken elsewhere, which makes people feel like a simple rating is enough to fulfill their input duties.

There is also a clear separation in the number of reviews based on app category. Apps in the Food and Drink category dominate in number of reviews across both iOS and Android, with apps in the Finance category trailing quite far behind.

Average App Store Reviews by App Category

Ultimately, the difference in the number of reviews comes down to usage. For example, while people may have two, three, or more favorite coffee shops or restaurants, they typically only use one banking app, which limits their interest in engaging with more apps in the Finance category. Broader customer bases give companies in more general categories an advantage when it comes to reviews, and raw number categorical comparisons don’t tell us all that much about customer emotion and sentiment—unless you look at the individual reviews themselves, which we get into in the final sections of the report.

Looking Ahead

It’s clear that app ratings and reviews aren’t just vanity metrics; they have real consequences on conversion rates and brand reputation. When we asked, consumers were clear that the lower the star rating, the less likely they’d be to download the app. The opportunity cost of a star is huge. Moving a three-star app to four stars, for example, can lead to an 89% increase in conversion.

Star Rating for Download

Ultimately, the data tells us ratings and reviews continue to play a major role in your app’s growth long after consumers have found their way to your app store product page. They serve as social proof to indicate your app’s quality in an otherwise blind evaluation process. And now, in both app stores, review recency matters more than ever before, which means being able to identify and activate your fans is critical.

For more on improving your app’s ratings and reviews, check out our guide Mobile App Ratings and Reviews: Where to Start and How to Win.

About Ashley Sefferman

Ashley Sefferman is Head of Content at Apptentive. A digital communication and content strategy enthusiast, she writes about multichannel engagement strategies, customer communication, and making the digital world a better place for people. Follow Ashley on Twitter at @ashseff.
View all posts by Ashley Sefferman >

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