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The problem with stand-alone retailer apps

TechCrunch was among the first to report on a new survey from Nielsen that found while consumers are spending more time in their apps, the number of apps they use hasn’t increased much. Nielsen reported that app usage among iPhone- and Android- using adults in the U.S. is up 65 percent over two years ago, reaching 30 hours and 15 minutes per month during the final quarter of 2013. But the average number of apps used per month during the fourth quarter of 2013 was 26.8 compared to 23.3 during the same period in 2011. Nielsen concludes that “there may be an ‘upper limit’ to how many apps users engage with each month,” according to the piece.

That isn’t much of a concern for publishers of extremely popular apps like Facebook or the default email or mapping apps many of us use every day, TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez writes. But it’s just one more challenge for developers of newer, lesser-known apps trying to gain traction “within the ever-expanding app universe.”

That trend is also likely to be a problem for retailers, restaurants and other consumer-facing businesses hoping to increase customer stickiness and generate revenues through their apps. Starbucks and Walgreens have made great early progress with their mobile apps, and nationwide chains like McDonald’s and Subway are hoping to mirror Starbucks’ success in mobile payments. Consumers are clearly willing to download and use a few apps from their favorite stores, but there’s clearly a limit to how many they’ll use regularly. That will increasingly become a problem for many retailers, particularly smaller vendors without a nationwide presence. But it will provide big opportunities for companies that can build networks of retailers and aggregate loyalty programs and perhaps even payments systems for multiple partners.