4 Key Mobile App Trends for Small Businesses
Mobile apps open new opportunities for small businesses to connect with their customers. While just about half (48%) of small businesses currently have a mobile app, 27% are planning to build one to support future business growth.
Updated April 22, 2022
Mobile apps are expected to earn a massive $935 billion in revenue by 2023. Small businesses can take advantage of people’s dependence on technology by connecting with customers through mobile apps.
Brandon Werber, CEO and founder of Airvet, recognized this opportunity and built his business with a mobile app at its center. “On the app, pet parents are able to voice their concerns, questions, or fears with no time limit,” Weber said. “Veterinarians are able to assess the severity of their pet’s health issue and owners are able to get more accurate information than they’d get from an internet search.”
By building an iOS and Android mobile app that provides 24/7 virtual veterinary care, they’ve been able to improve customer access to medical advice — pet owners on Airvet connect with a vet six times more than the average pet owner.
Airvet — like many other businesses — has been able to carve out their own niche and set themselves apart from other companies in their industry by providing a mobile app. “Many startups in our space focus on building tools for veterinarians alone, and not for pet owners,” Werber said.
In many ways, mobile apps are key for small businesses looking to connect with customers, grow brand awareness, and, ultimately, expand their business. However, building an app can be costly, so small businesses should weigh their own needs and target audience when considering the value of a mobile app.
Top Design Firms surveyed over 1,003 small business owners about their experience with mobile apps in 2022 and 500 in 2021. The data highlights four key mobile app trends on how small businesses are building and using apps to support business objectives.
- Mobile apps are increasing in popularity — Nearly half (48%) of small businesses have an app in 2022, compared to one-third (32%) in 2021, possibly because consumers are spending more time on their mobile devices than ever before. In 2022, only 13% of small businesses don’t plan to release a mobile app, compared to 26% in 2021.
- Small businesses are most motivated to build a mobile app to improve customer service (19%) and boost branding efforts (19%).
- Outsourcing is the most popular way small businesses choose to build an app: 79% of small businesses outsource to either an app development team or a freelancer. 46% of businesses have an in-house development team and 43% use DIY software.
- Most small businesses have apps for both iOS and Android devices (37%), while 35% have only an Android app and 25% have only an iOS app.
Are you planning to build a mobile app for your business? Check out Top Design Firm’s list of highly-rated app developers.
Mobile Apps Are Gaining Popularity Among Small Businesses
The need for a mobile app varies from business to business depending on unique factors such as industry, services offered, target audience, competitors, and even the age of the business itself.
However, with the average American spending over 5–6 hours a day on mobile devices, small businesses can’t ignore the opportunity to connect with customers.
Small businesses across various industries are weighing the pros and cons of adding a mobile app to their business model, and there is a lot to consider. “You have to know your business,” said Tim Denman, chief marketing and sales officer at ServGrow, a field service management software company.
“You also have to ask yourself if your business has the funds to hire an app developer, skills to run it, and the time to balance the app with your existing website.”
As mobile device usage rates continue to grow, many small businesses are confronting these questions and determining the value a mobile app could add to their services.
Our survey found that 48% of small businesses already have a mobile app to support their business objectives, compared to 32% last year. Between 2021 and 2022, that’s a 16% increase.
As the amount of time consumers spent on mobile devices increased during the pandemic, many small businesses saw an opportunity to connect with customers and decided to build their own.
Ian Sells, founder and CEO of Rebatekey, explained his company’s decision to build a mobile app, “We knew it was time to make a mobile app when the number of our mobile users began to significantly contribute to the site's traffic.”
“We don't want to waste the opportunity. Creating a mobile app can help increase usage accessibility among our buyers and even the sellers who use our product,” Sells said.
Apps help grow sales, build brand awareness, marketing and communications, data collection, and more. Businesses that need support in any of these areas would find a mobile app useful.
Small Businesses Without Mobile Apps Will Build One in 2022 or 2023
Most businesses recognize that apps can help grow their business — 74% of businesses who don’t already have a mobile app plan to build one in the next couple of years.
Half (50%) of those companies plan to build one in 2022 and nearly one in four (24%) say they would like to in 2023 or later, marking a big shift in the market.
At the beginning of 2021, companies were still worried about sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to financial reasons, they decided it wasn’t the best time to invest in a high-quality mobile app.
At the time, Charles Vallena, CEO of a review platform for guitars and music accessories called TheGuitarJunky.com, explained his decision not to build a mobile app: “The pandemic clearly played a big role in our decision,” Vallena said.
The financial cost and time investment required to build a mobile app didn’t align with Vallena’s current needs and capabilities.
“Sales have declined, our budget is tight, and we need to invest on business activities that will have an immediate positive effect on our revenue,” Vallena said.
However, with COVID rates decreasing in the US, it looks like small businesses are looking to invest more in their businesses in 2022 and 2023.
Ivan Stepan’kov, head of marketing at Cleveroad, a website and mobile app development company, explained why companies seem to be building more apps now that the pandemic is subsiding, “Declined [Covid-19] rates make it profitable to create apps, and developers' expertise helps businesses get apps quickly and lower costs.”
Stepan’kov continued, “Now is a great time to develop applications. The global trend towards remote solving of all kinds of tasks is firmly entrenched, but businesses haven't transferred their processes to the digital yet. By creating an app now, you respond to your consumers' demand and gain a foothold in the market for a future perspective.”
“By creating an app now, you respond to your consumers' demand and gain a foothold in the market for a future perspective.”
Now small businesses feel more comfortable spending the money to build a mobile app, seeing it as a way to improve customer relationships and solidify their position in the market.
Cleveroad is a Ukraine-based web and mobile app development company. Despite the war in Ukraine, many companies are going about their business as usual. Consider supporting Ukrainian service providers such as Cleveroad here.
Should You Build a Mobile App for Your Business?
Although mobile apps are increasing in popularity, some small business owners don’t find mobile apps necessary for their business strategy.
Business owners who don’t have a mobile app often don’t feel that it aligns with their specific business offering. “I think product-based businesses have huge potential for success with mobile apps,” said Laura English, Lead Copywriter at Sonder Digital Marketing, a digital agency.
“However, I don’t think they’re as important as we’re led to believe and I think if business owners have a limited budget, they should focus on a website with perfect responsiveness.”
Mobile apps also require a huge financial investment and can cost between $40,000–$300,000 depending on the scope of work. As such, Small businesses need to weigh those costs with the benefits of a mobile app.
Additional reading: ‘App Development Cost for Small Businesses.’
Stephen Light, Co-owner of Nolah Mattress, decided his mattress company does not need an app to support their operations.
“A massive financial budget is essential in making and marketing a mobile app, so companies with limited funds shouldn’t consider this venture,” Light said. “Additionally, businesses without a large established customer base would find it difficult to get people to download their app.”
Mobile apps don’t fit naturally into every business model. Small businesses without a lot of financial flexibility should invest in other growth initiatives integral to their strategy before building a mobile app.
Expert Advice: What to consider when deciding to build a mobile app for your business
Werber offered this advice for companies thinking about investing in building a mobile app, “One piece of advice I can offer to other business owners is to consider their target consumers first when planning a mobile app.”
“One piece of advice I can offer to other business owners is to consider their target consumers first when planning a mobile app.”
Depending on their audience and industry, building a mobile app can help businesses meet their business goals, but only if it’s within their budget.
Most Small Business Owners with An App Are Satisfied
Although developing a mobile app can be expensive, most think it's well-worth the cost.
Nearly half (46%) of small businesses with an app claim to be “very satisfied” with how their app has performed against their goals, showing that most feel that the project was a worthwhile investment.
Recognizing the success that other businesses have found though building their mobile app, it seems that many small business leaders are changing their minds on app development. In 2021, just over a quarter (26%) of small businesses said they’re unlikely to ever release a mobile app. However, now just 13% believe so.
Companies looking to improve their customer experience, increase sales, and grow their brand may find building an app is worth the expense.
Rebatekey found that building a mobile app increased their customer engagement, “On a regular day, 32-48% of our engagement comes from our mobile-optimized website and mobile apps combined,” Sells said. This growth demonstrates how building an app can impact how customers interact with a brand.
Small businesses are realizing that they must build a mobile app to meet their customer expectations.
Gergo Vari, CEO and founder of the job search platform Lensa, explained why they felt like they needed to build a mobile app, “We also know that many of our clients are doing the same thing - they're using mobile apps to connect with candidates and potential employees. We wanted to offer them the same thing - a way to connect with us on their mobile devices.”
“The most pressing factor was the fact that more and more job seekers are using their mobile devices to search for jobs. If we want to reach them where they're at, we need to have a strong presence on mobile,” Vari said.
By building a mobile app, Lensa can appeal to job seekers that are using mobile devices more frequently in their job search.
Small Business Mobile Apps Support Customer Experience and Branding Efforts
The benefits of mobile apps go beyond just boosting your service offering for customers. Some small businesses may choose to invest in a mobile app to support marketing efforts, increase sales, or stand out from the competition.
However, our data reveals that most small business owners chose to build a mobile app to improve their customer experience and branding efforts.
How can mobile apps improve customer experience for small businesses?
Mobile apps offer another channel for businesses to communicate directly with their customers.
In fact, 19% of small businesses created a mobile app to improve customer service efforts or streamline the purchasing process for their users.
Goalry is a personal financial planning company with a mobile app that helps users achieve their financial goals. “We built our mobile app because we feel like it streamlines our service for customers and makes the information more easily presentable,” said Ethan Taub, the company’s CEO.
Taub explains that Goalry’s app provides a better experience not only because it’s tailor-made for portable devices, but also because users can easily receive help and support. “The app has a customer support section, allowing customers to contact us without having to email us,” Taub said.
“The app has a customer support section, allowing customers to contact us without having to email us.”
Many mobile apps have contact features that allow customers to receive timely and helpful customer service, leaving users with a positive impression of the business.
Caroline Lee, marketing director at digital signature company CocoSign, shares that her company’s app has an employee tracking feature. “The app increases the visibility of our operations and helps us to deliver our services more efficiently,” Lee said.
“The app increases the visibility of our operations and helps us to deliver our services more efficiently.” The CocoSign app has also increased customer satisfaction.
However, Lee explains the main benefit of the app is the additional value it brings to customers’ experience. “The app helped our customers to use our employee tracking tool remotely and efficiently,” Lee said.
“We included features like GPS tracking, notifications and alerts, employee profiles, and reporting features in the app.” Mobile apps not only act as another channel for customer support services, but also improve user experience by offering additional features specific to mobile devices.
How can mobile apps boost branding efforts for small businesses?
Branding is essential to small businesses looking to scale, and a mobile app is another opportunity to build a visual identity. One in five of small businesses (19%) have invested in a mobile app to further develop their brand or build customer loyalty.
Taub explains that Goalry’s app helps the company build trust with users subconsciously. “More people have discovered our business from the app as they see it scrolling through the app store,” Taub said.
“Even if they don’t download it, they may recognize our name if they see it again.” From Taub’s perspective, it’s basically free marketing. A strong, high-quality mobile app can act as an extension of a company’s full image by increasing brand awareness standing out among competitors.
Most Small Businesses Outsource Mobile App Development Needs
Are you considering building a mobile app for your business and aren’t sure how to approach the project?
The majority (79%) of small businesses outsource to either an app development team or a freelancer. In comparison, 46% have an in-house development team and 43% use DIY software.
Small businesses should consider the pros and cons of each development solution when planning their project.
What are the different options for outsourcing mobile app development?
For small businesses without in-house development knowledge and with the funds available, outsourcing mobile app development services is a great option. Nearly half of small businesses (45%) have outsourced the development of their mobile app to another agency.
By outsourcing, companies can avoid the time and money associated with hiring and training additional staff. Additionally, small business owners can continue to focus on their core business processes and trust the experts to build their vision.
Small businesses looking for a more cost-effective outsourcing solution should consider a freelancer. Over a third of small businesses (37%) have contracted their mobile app development needs to a freelancer.
The costs associated with a freelancer are less than that of a full outsourced development team, but small businesses need to be clear about communication to ensure a successful project.
Additional reading: ‘Top 6 Ways to Outsource App Development,’ and ‘Benefits of Outsourcing for Small Businesses.’
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What are the options for building a mobile app in-house?
In 2021, only about 1 in 3 small businesses (37%) used an in-house team to develop their mobile app. However, now nearly half (46%) choose to use an in-house development team to build their mobile app.
As more small business owners start to understand how a mobile app can benefit their business strategy, they may realize that building and maintaining the app internally is more efficient — particularly because internal teams understand the nuances of the business’s strategy.
Additionally, more established businesses might already have an in-house development department.
While it is costly to hire and train developers specifically to build a mobile app, it is worth the investment if the mobile app will become an integral part of your business strategy.
Goalry had developers in-house build the financial planning app. “We had someone in-house develop an app that is like a portable version of our website,” Taub said. “Though mobile users could just use the website, the app runs much better and allows users to have access to specific features when offline.”
In-house development also allows small businesses to have more control over the finished product.
Another in-house option is using a third-party development software. A quarter (25%) of small businesses are building an app themselves using a “do-it-yourself” or DIY app development technology.
There are plenty of programs like BuildFire and Appian available for small businesses looking for a practical way to build a mobile app for their business.
In-house development is a great option for small businesses that either already have in-house development talent or are looking to fully invest in a mobile app at a reasonable cost.
Small Businesses Prioritize Accessibility When Building Mobile Apps
In the U.S, iOS has 57% of the market share for mobile operating systems compared to 41% occupied by Android devices, all other operating systems represent about 1% of the total market share.
When small businesses are planning to build a mobile app of their own, it’s important that they consider the devices their customers use — iOS or Android, or both.
How can small businesses reach the largest audience with a mobile app?
Small businesses that develop mobile apps to grow their customer base prioritize accessibility and have apps available for both iOS and Android users. In fact, 34% of small businesses offer apps across both operating systems.
Goalry falls into that group. “Our app supports both iOS and Android platforms because we don’t want to restrict who can use it,” Taub said.
“Our app supports both iOS and Android platforms because we don’t want to restrict who can use it.”
For companies like Goalry that have heavily invested in their mobile app, it’s important that it be as widely available as possible.
CocoSign also was designed to support both platforms. “We didn’t want to differentiate our services on this front,” Lee said. Small businesses with a broad audience should build apps for both iOS and Android devices to ensure that their mobile app has an expansive reach.
How should small businesses decide which platform to support with their mobile app?
For businesses with a more niche audience, owners may be in the position to decide between building an iOS app or an Android app. Small businesses should think about their audience’s geographic locations and demographics when making the decision.
While iOS has the majority of the market share in the United States, Android is more popular globally. For that reason, 35% of small businesses have prioritized building apps for Android devices. If you are primarily targeting well-off consumers in the United States, you should consider targeting Apple devices.
Thirty percent of small businesses (30%) have apps that are only compatible with Apple devices. It’s important that small businesses understand their audience’s preferences when deciding which operating system to prioritize when building a mobile app.
Mobile Apps Open New Opportunities for Small Businesses
As consumer dependence on mobile devices grows, small businesses are taking advantage of mobile apps to support their objectives and scale their operations. As a result, more and more small businesses are deciding to build their own app.
By building a mobile app, companies hope to improve customer experience and branding efforts.
While some decide to build their app in-house, outsourcing is the most popular approach for mobile app development among small businesses. This is because hiring an app developer can to save time and guarantee the quality of the app.
While a mobile app can help many small businesses connect with their customers, they should also consider audience demographics when deciding which platforms their app should support.
These trends indicate that small businesses will use mobile apps to support a variety of business functions in the future.
About The Survey
Top Design Firms surveyed 1,003 small business owners and managers at companies in the U.S. with fewer than 500 employees in December 2021. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of respondents are male; 43% are female. Thirty-six percent (36%) are 18 to 34; 53% are 35 to 54; 11% are 55 or over. Five percent (5%) of respondents’ businesses have one employee; 28% have 2 to 10 employees; 31% have 11 to 50 employees; 24% have 51 to 250 employees; 12% have 251 to 500 employees. Respondents are from the South (42%), West (21%), Midwest (20%), and Northeast (17%).
Top Design Firms surveyed 500 small business owners and managers at U.S. companies with fewer than 500 employees in December 2020. Fifty-three percent (53%) of respondents are female and 47% are male. About a quarter of respondents (25%) are ages 18–34; 50% are 35–54; 24% are over 55. Respondents are located in the South (35%), Northeast (23%), West (22%), and Midwest (20%). Seven percent (7%) of respondents are the only employees at their business; 36% of respondents’ businesses have 2–10 employees; 25% have 11–50 employees; 18% have 51–250 employees. 15% have 251–500 employees.