It’s been well over a decade since the release of the first true smartphone. Apple promised to revolutionize the computing world with the iPhone, and true to their word, they did. Since then, companies like Shockoe have worked diligently to harness the full potential of such hardware. From Fortune 500 to start-ups, mobile shops have helped companies create workforce and customer-loyalty apps that measurably improve the daily lives of users. What is a Utility App? Let’s jump in.

Understanding Utility Apps

App downloads have been on a steep decline. This is unsurprising — bloatware, marketing gimmicks, usability issues, and ad-riddled pages make it unappealing to download an app and keep it on your phone. Even the greatest of intentions can backfire when apps lack focus or miss the mark on execution. Enter “Utility Apps.”

Utility is the concept of providing functionality and measurably demonstrating value – this idea is the fundamental key to any successful app. Was it built specifically for doing focused work, for producing clear results, or supplying a common need? The way we currently see it, there are three types of Utility Apps:

Whether improving a brand or buying experience or alternatively, providing mobility to employees, the ingredients behind a successful app deployment are always the same. Does the application provide the best means to resolve a need?

Why Mobile Utility?


We’re often approached by customers who think of mobile as an alternative or add-on channel. This notion still surprises us. With 77% of US adults carrying around a smartphone, and furthermore, many checking it over a 100 times per day, mobile is a must for 2018.

With this in mind, it’s quite simple. Users will engage more with companies that remove barriers to products and resources and grant access through phones. As far as we see it, the writing is on the wall. Growing enterprises should feel obligated to improve mobile transactions and embrace innovative technology. Voice recognition, biometric access, Augment and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) are the new status quo behind today’s competitive apps.

Brand & Customer Loyalty Apps

Today’s most successful companies are investing heavily in their digital strategy to provide utility beyond shameless advertising. Home Depot, Nike, Delta, Amazon, Starbucks, all share a common thread — their apps aim to serve their customers. Furthermore, they provide functionality to the point that users rely on the application to improve their daily lives. A tall order, but a necessary one for companies aiming to lead the pack.

If you’re part of a B2C company that is still thinking of mobile as a secondary digital strategy, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. Mobility provides customers access to your brand and products on their schedule — not the other way around. E-commerce has been quickest to adopt, but other retailers, whether brick and mortar, restaurants, coffee shops, airlines, clothing lines should feel equally pressured to make the investment.

How Caribou Coffee Brewed Up App-Driven Business

Caribou Coffee, like many B2C companies, exists in a competitive business environment. In 2016, their low-rated app and poor user feedback proved users wanted to engage on mobile but were failing to do so. Sometimes it takes rethinking a good idea and executing in a different manner to get the desired business result.


By keeping utility front and center, Caribou with Shockoe’s help overhauled everything from the back-end architecture to the user-interface. Despite major strategy and technology changes, Shockoe never steered away from the fundamental mobile goal: providing measurable utility. Loyalty systems were built to keep users coming back, login bugs were teased out to reduce access frustration, and in the end, all user testing kicked back positive. The result was a 4.9-star rating app backed by a loyal and satisfied customer pool.

The Modern Mobile Workforce

Loyalty is not a trait reserved for customers. Employers are now on the hook for providing work tools that facilitate work-life, and equally, boost management oversight.

Certain job-types nestle right into mobile as a solution. Utility technicians, outside sales representatives, high volume retailers simply operate better when they toss out antiquated hardware/software. Being able to review next appointments, manage tasks, report progress, generate reports, all while on the move, is the new business norm. Companies electing to keep their processes tethered to clunky portals and pen & paper will not only lose time but in time will also see employees grow frustrated.

Management Apps: Right Tool, Wrong Execution

Oracle, Microsoft Insight, Salesforce, or other CRM/ERP software are sometimes built with the right intention, but with misaligned execution that forgoes utility.

Even the most brilliant backend architecture can flop if the tool itself feels unusable. For the people managing resources, submitting expense reports, or counting inventory, designers must consider everything from strategy, information architecture, UX/UI, design, and innovation (biometric log-in, document scanning, etc.). It’s only once all these ingredients align that a mobile app can begin to make headway. Think of how the app is used and what limitations exist (and resolve them), and then and only then will you produce a tool as powerful as the system behind it.

Build App That Fit and Scale

Because companies come in different shapes and sizes, every process and deployment should be equally unique. Whether it’s an IT service team’s ability to service employees through mobile or tracking travel expenses through custom payroll app, it’s key to deliver tools that help employees feel heard and managed as a company grows.

Shockoe did just this when internal stakeholders at American Express were requesting greater numbers of custom productivity apps. With a growing backlog, a mobile roadmap became a necessity, as did a way of prioritizing and deploying the right mobile applications. Together, our teams conceived an application for employees to suggest, track, and manage the mobile tools rolled out by the company. The result has been better managed digital growth with greater employee access to digital tools. Everybody wins.

The Single Thread

Regardless if an app aims to bring more customers through the door or is attempting to streamline a supply chain, if it does not provide utility, you can count on a short shelf-life. All apps should be built upon solid strategy, sound data architecture, and clear UX/UI. This is the secret formula to any app that will ultimately end up as a front-page tool that your users count upon on a daily basis.

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