Beyond the early years: what Mothercare and Wagamama teach us about mobile app development

by | Nov 5, 2019 | Expert Blog | 0 comments

Last week I received two messages letting me know that apps I have on my phone are closing down. Quite surprising as I don’t recall another time when an app I have installed has announced its closure. Even more surprising is the brands that the messages came from – both from sizeable, well known in the UK, brands – Mothercare and Wagamama.


The Mothercare app sent me a push notification, with the message that whilst the app is closing, they’ve been improving their website to create a better shopping experience. It’s great that they’re focussed on improving customer experience on the website, but this cost saving of the app could also be down to the latest news about administration threats. Mothercare, a brand recognised by 95% of people in the UK (source: for all your early family needs, from maternity clothing, to baby clothing and all the equipment in between, and who launched a mobile app in 2012. The basis for launching the app had been in recognition of 30% of total web traffic being generated through mobile devices and the fact that the majority of mothers were relying heavily on smartphones.


For 2012, this may have been sufficient research to justify the investment in an app, but as customer expectations have grown, and competition in the app market has increased, it is no longer enough to create a Venn diagram overlap between mobile usage for your target market and mobile traffic. You have to define what need your app is addressing and prove that you’ll address that need better than others. Having a clear focus for what your app is helping your customers achieve is vital. Customers need to know when to turn to your app over your website or a competitor app.


The Mothercare app did more than just eCommerce – as well as enabling you to shop their entire product range (in exactly the same way as the website), it also let you personalise the app screens with photos of your children, enter baby due dates, find baby names, access pregnancy and parenting content, find your nearest store and more. I counted over 15 different reasons why you could choose to use the app – that’s a lot of investment in feature development over the years. Having many reasons a user could use your app may sound like a positive, lots of reasons to use it, right? But it risks diluting the value and getting lost amongst the competition, almost being a jack of all trades but master of none. Unless you’re purchasing very regularly, why would you go to the app to shop if the website offers the same experience? Why would you choose to find out about your pregnancy stage when there are a number of apps mastering just this? 


So, onto Wagamama, a popular restaurant and take away brand with 84% of the UK having heard of Wagamama (source:  In contrast to Mothercare, Wagamama sent me an email with a data and customer backed message – they’ve seen a decline in usage of their app and that they’ve been speaking to customers to find out why.


Their app, launched just over 18 months ago, was a restaurant companion app, allowing customers to order and pay, saving an average of 12 minutes per meal by not waiting entirely on, uh, waiting staff. The aim was to make the dining experience frictionless, a term often used when looking at improving the customer experience. Unlike the Mothercare app, the singular purpose was clear – making the diners’ life more seamless through digital ordering and payment.


So, where did it go wrong? Reading into the launch of the app and reasons behind it, there’s no mention of customer research to prove the app was valid, instead there are statements about how Wagamama want to make it easier for diners to leave quickly after meals and making the experience faster and stress free. Sure, we can all read about the features of this app and think ‘yeah, I get that, it sounds useful’ but that’s not the same as identifying an important unmet customer need. Thinking something sounds useful isn’t necessarily enough to get customers to go to the app store, register, upload their card details and use it. Even if you did this once, you would then need to do it time and time again for Wagamama to achieve the staff efficiencies and persuade the customer to choose Wagamama over others for a seamless experience. 


Whether you have an existing app and you’re considering new features, or you’re creating your app for the first time – it all requires investment, and investment should never happen unless you understand and know two things:


  • Does this address a customer need that is important and is not being met by competitors or your existing channels?
  • Can we define how this will generate ROI (return on investment)? Whether through increased customer loyalty, making it easier to convert or something else?


Whilst the closure of these apps was surprising to me, the conversation about ‘do you really need an app?’ is very familiar to me and the team here in Bristol. If these apps weren’t generating engagement and revenue for the brands, they’re right to stop investment and focus on the platforms that do.  It is precisely this need to deliver value to customers and users that informs and steers the way we work at Mubaloo. So when clients come to me and the team asking for an app, we stop and ask these key questions – 


  1. What user needs are being addressed? How will we address these better than others?
  2. Do you really need an app?
  3. Does your app have a clear purpose and focus?


And finally, the most important question…


  1. Where is the evidence to back up the answers to 1-3?


Without gathering the evidence, through methods such as Jobs To Be Done, User Testing, Prototyping, Analytics and more, your mobile app plans, regardless of whether adding to an existing app or creating a new one, is just a wish list based on your hopes and perception of customers.


To deliver value for user, and ultimately brand, we all need to be comfortable in asking and addressing the sometimes difficult questions listed above. By investing in the evidence to focus and ultimately de-risk feature investment, we are putting ourselves in a much stronger position to deliver value faster and more impactfully. Evidence supports not only which features will drive adoption but also which will drive the app’s endurance with users over time to support longevity and sustained value for businesses.


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