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The power of consumer lock-in (or why I won’t use your new app)

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A couple of months ago, I had dinner with a relative who works in the creative industry and is a talented photographer. Our conversation turned to technology and apps, and so naturally we pulled out our iPhones to compare. I asked him if he uses Instagram to share photos when he’s not using a professional camera, and his answer surprised me.

He said no, he doesn’t — he downloaded Hipstamatic way back when it was first cool, took time to learn how it worked, and grew to like the app. But now he hears Hipstamatic isn’t cool anymore; he knows Instagram is the app of the moment. But he said he didn’t want to invest in learning how to use another photo-sharing app because the photo-sharing apps seem to come and go.

Instagram clearly isn’t having problems attracting new users, but every time I download a new app or check out a new website, I think about my uncle’s comment. It’s one thing to look at an app or product and think that’s it’s cool, or that someone else might like it. But it’s another altogether to actually make it part of my daily or weekly routine. The companies that create these apps, of course, can’t survive without the latter.

Right now, there are a plethora of new apps that are obviously inspired by Pinterest but with a more commerce-oriented approach. They allow you to scroll through feed of products, save them to your profile, and potentially click through to purchase. There’s Wanelo, and Wish, and Kickscout, and Fab, and The FancyPoshmark, and many more.

These sites have differences — some might focus on flash sales, others on daily deals, others on design or re-selling items between users. But ultimately, they offer the same basic premise: a place to discover, save and purchase products online. But personally, I already have my shopping and saving routine. And unless these sites can fit into my existing habits, I’m pretty unlikely to actually invest time in them — unless they offer an incredible value proposition that my current favorites don’t.

Right now, I usually save books I want to read to my Amazon wishlist, and clothes I want to buy to a Pinterest board. But when I’m on Fab’s iPhone app, it encourages me to save things with the Fab heart icon, rather than to Pinterest or Amazon. On Kickscout (the app that alerts you when you’re standing in stores that have in stock products that you’ve saved), you have to save those products to a Kickscout list, not wherever you’re currently putting them. Or if I find cool products on Wanelo, it’s not going to make it simple for me to save to Pinterest, even if that’s where I save things to buy later.

It’s clear why companies do this: They want you spending time on their site, not someone else’s, because that’s how they make money. Sometimes, there are technological reasons (like Pinterest’s lack of API) that prevent cross-communciation between apps — the Kickscout CEO told me the company would “rush” to add Pinterest products whenever this happens). But for a lot of companies, they either think users won’t mind creating a new wish list or photo album on their app, or they think that they’re going to be the next killer product that invents an entirely new action. (It’s not like Twitter needed to integrate with anyone else’s social network.)

But for every user who’s willing to recreate their product wishlist on a new site, there’s are probably 10 users like my uncle, who was perfectly happy with the app he had before everyone moved on to the next thing. They aren’t willing to take time for the new thing — even if it’s something as big as Instagram.

So if you’re looking to build a viral shopping app, here’s my advice: Take advantage of the popular platforms that exist, instead of battling against them

One Response to “The power of consumer lock-in (or why I won’t use your new app)”

  1. russbenk

    The rate at which these new social media sites are coming out is exhausting almost every couple of months something new hits. I think people are starting to get sick of changing their habit and agree with you, working within existing platforms will be the best way.