How App Exclusives Help Brands Build Community & Increase Sales

An app is the perfect place to bring your VIPs together to build a community around your brand — and exclusive offers, downloads, and content make them more likely to stick around, spend more money, and spread the word.

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We all know about FOMO. While using it as a hashtag on your social media posts might be so 2010, when it comes to ecommerce, exclusivity (and community-building) will never go out of style.  

In this article, we’ll dive deep into how app-exclusive promotions, launches, content, and more are a surefire way to organically build a community that, in turn, brings your VIP customers closer to the brand than ever before. And this closeness isn’t just good for engagement; it has real ROI and long-term brand-strengthening results, too. 

After all, the customers who download your app are already self-selecting as high-intent VIPs who want to explore your brand in the palms of their hands. Nurture them properly with personalized CX, a truly fast (and gamified) shopping experience, and can’t-miss app exclusives, and you won’t just see a community-driven boost in customer loyalty and retention but in LTV and AOV, too. CAC will also decrease every single time those VIP, community-connected customers come back for more. 

Without further ado, let’s get started!

Why are innovative brands prioritizing “community marketing” first in 2024?

Community marketing is an authentic, “organic” marketing strategy that allows ecommerce brands to transform their happiest, most engaged customers into “unofficial” partners. Sometimes, you’ll hear these VIPs referred to as brand advocates: customers so obsessed with your brand that they can’t help but spread the word. 

Word-of-mouth marketing like this is so valuable for good reason. Case in point: 92% of Nielsen-surveyed consumers believe their friends and family over any kind of advertising — and keep in mind this includes influencer marketing and face-to-face efforts, too. That being said, only 4% of marketers recognize the value consumers place on word-of-mouth marketing. 

If you want your business to stand out, it’s time to focus on the customer and make sure to deliver offerings, values, and CX so outstanding they’re going to want to shout it to the rooftops. (Or at least text their friends and family about it.)

But, to turn a first-time customer into a brand superfan, you’ll need an airtight community marketing strategy first. According to a Forbes article on the subject, community marketing will only become more critical (and more worthy of brand investment) in the coming decade.  And, the more robust your community marketing, the easier it is to reap the benefits (and the ROI) of 2024’s top ecommerce trends, which a second Forbes article lists as augmented reality shopping experiences, customer-centric loyalty programs, more sustainable merchant practices, more personalized subscription services, and more. 

As you already know, communities form online in a couple of ways. Sometimes, they form naturally with no help from the brand at all (think: all those random Facebook groups devoted to sharing InstantPot recipes.) Other times, these communities form with a little assistance from the brand itself (think: Brands that build their own discussion forums, promote community hashtags, etc.) 

No matter what, your community marketing strategy should underscore value, VIP engagement, exclusivity, and member-to-member connection. And there’s a fifth thing to consider, too: being an expert human voice in a world where fluffy, AI-generated content is now everywhere.

With a little help from tools like ChatGPT, it’s easier than ever before for brands to churn out blog posts that offer tons of words, but very little value. To stand out, savvy brands are investing in truly “human,” deeply informed content that offers real insight to customers. 

In a sense, the rise of fluffy, AI-generated content is a golden opportunity for smart brands to differentiate themselves and become a go-to source of real information and guidance for their communities.

For example, instead of an uninspiring but verbose piece on how to pack a suitcase, a brand could interview travel influencers, flight attendants, and backup dancers on tour about how they pack their entire lives into a carry-on. In an instant, the content not only offers real value and insight but forges deeper, beyond-the-sale connections with real people who use your products and live your brand’s mission, too. (Bonus points if they post it on their socials, too.)

Some brands also use additional platforms like Reddit, Quora, and more to position their companies as experts in the very places where relevant questions are being asked.

These aren’t places to make direct sales so much as they are golden opportunities to demonstrate your brand’s expertise, values, and commitment to its mission.  

The role of personalization in CX and community marketing

We can’t write an article about community-building without talking about personalized CX. (Trust us, we’ve tried. It’s impossible! Too important.)  

And here’s why. According to a report on personalization by McKinsey, 71% of consumers expect brands to offer personalized experiences, and over ¾ of consumers report they feel frustrated when no personalization is offered. The report underscores that, in an era where consumer expectations are sky-high, and there are thousands of brands to choose from, customers aren’t afraid to try a new brand or switch to a new company.

McKinsey says consumers expect brands to offer not just an easy-to-navigate online store but also to provide personalized recommendations, customize messaging to a customer’s needs, and offer targeted discounts and promotions. And because digital DTC brands have access to troves of customer data, your customers (sometimes without even realizing it) have come to expect bespoke virtual experiences.

McKinsey also notes that personalization drives 25% of revenue for digitally native (DTC) brands versus 10 to 20% for brick-and-mortar stores and 5 to 10% for companies with no direct relationship to their customers.

One key trend we’ve already mentioned — and keep seeing over and over again for 2024 — is personalized subscription models. Forbes expects retailers will offer subscriptions tailored to individual preferences, not only in terms of product selection but also in the frequency and timing of deliveries. These highly customized subscription models can enhance customer loyalty and supply a steady revenue stream for businesses. 

As a modern DTC commerce brand, your customers crave (and, frankly, require!) personalization — and, pretty soon, they will expect a community, too. And they’re going to want that experience to feel exclusive. 

All sourced by McKinsey

Customers want (and expect) an immersive mobile experience and gamified exclusives

Here’s the good news: an app is the ideal place to meet consumers’ digital expectations…and then achieve so much more. As a holistic sales and marketing channel, an app becomes a go-to platform for customers looking for instant checkout, personalized recommendations, and community-driven brand immersion

Shopping on a mobile website isn’t enough to make a worthwhile impression and get that brand advocacy. Customers want an immersive, curated experience in the palms of their hands. Now more than ever before, they want to consume a brand like they do social media: endlessly, with no frustration, and with tons of things to do and swipe and see, but presented in a clean, satisfying, branded way. 

How an app is the perfect place for exclusives (and personalization) that drive community and loyalty (and AOV) 

Olivia Shapiro, the Senior Ecommerce Manager of Bombshell Sportswear, noted that the company’s app has created an environment where customers want to continue shopping and engaging with the brand in a more meaningful way than on the website. 

“It’s fun, it's easy, it's right at your fingertips… so why not?,” she said of creating an app. “Especially if customers get that push notification, and in just one click, you're in the app, looking at beautiful content. And [none of the app traffic or content] is slowing down the website. We can have as much content as we want in the app, and I think that's really important, especially nowadays, with customers consuming apps or websites as if they’re social media. Imitating that experience is crucial to the whole direct-to-consumer business model.”

Reward customers for downloading your app with a valuable experience to boost sales

 Gamification station, baby. The benefits are most definitely worth the investment. This type of strategy not only grabs the consumer’s attention, but reduces cart abandonment and improves loyalty. Recent statistics have shown that game-based motivation can lead to a 48% increase in user engagement. Other research has found that gamification can boost customer acquisitions by up to 700%. It’s also really, really fun--in a way that gets customers talking, which is what community marketing is all about. 

All sourced by McKinsey.

In today’s crowded marketplace, you must meet your consumer’s expectations of a digital, exclusive experience. Your app has the potential to jumpstart a strategy of catering an exclusive customer experience to young, “extremely online” consumers. This is especially key if your brand is more “upmarket.”

Here’s the proof: Bain & Company and Farfetch collaborated on research that predicts millennials will represent 40% of the global luxury market by 2025. What’s more, analysts noted that the appeal of luxury products for Gen Z consumers could be linked not just to a boost in wealth creation over the past several years but to the showcasing of these goods over social media. 

To truly resonate with millennials and Gen Z, luxury fashion brands must also rethink distribution channels and product offerings. Especially for brands selling luxury goods, a modern, more digital approach to your brand and exclusive community-building is non-negotiable.

Luxury brands, Skims, Khaite and Bremont, that are featured on Shopify's 'Luxury Ecommerce Tips to Attract Affluent Customers (2024)'

What “exclusives” are modern ecommerce brands using their apps to offer?

There are many different reasons why brands invest in an owned app, but when it comes to community-building, these two stand out:

  1. Customers who download your app are, as mentioned, practically declaring themselves VIPs. They are ready to be immersed, join your community, spread the word, and spend more money.
  2. These customers will almost always opt-in to push notifications, which (unlike SMS) are free for your company to send, feel way less spammy than a text, don’t get ignored like email, and arrive straight to your VIP’s home screens. Once a push is sent, all it takes is a single click to get those customers immersed in your app.

These factors explain why, over the past few years, more and more D2C brands have gone all-in, leveraging app exclusives to bring their best customers to these platforms.

Here are several popular effective ways to enhance your app experience with exclusives:

  1. Early access to products: Do your products often sell out? Offer access to your top-selling items hours or even days before your website launch. Even 24 hours makes a major difference. The app is the perfect destination for this type of exclusive because push notifications reach customers instantly (compared to SMS which has delayed sending time) and has high visibility (compared to email which can get lost in the inbox).
  2. App-exclusive products and collections: Release exclusive products, colors, patterns, flavors, or even entire collections. We've seen brands test new product in the app by dropping it in the app too.
  3. Flash Sales, promotions, and discounts: Trading a discount code for a download is so popular because it works. Offer 10–20% on first-time purchases in the app, or even create built-in app discounts. We've seen brands test new product in the app by dropping it in the app too.
  4. One-Time In-App Welcome Discounts: A pro-tip is when integrating Klaviyo with your Tapcart account, you can set this up automatically. For more information, check out this guide.
  5. Free Shipping: Pretty self-explanatory, but this is an awesome way to incentivize checkout and take advantage of the app's higher AOV average.
  6. Exclusive brand updates: With push notifications, you can reach customers instantly and directly to deliver the first news about any kind of brand update.
  7. Exclusive in-app content: An app can serve as a unique content hub for your brand and the possibilities are endless including videos, editorial content, playlists, and more. Here’s one example of app-exclusive content from Matt Pierce, Director of eCommerce at RipNDip: “We offered phone wallpapers that were exclusive on the app… We've had significant growth just through those small little things."
  8. Event Invitations: Whether your brand is hosting a pop-up activation, a digital meditation, just launched a podcast episode, or shared BTS of a shoot on TikTok, you can alert your customers via the app to get their immediate attention.
  9. Giveaways: Host app-exclusive sweepstakes and giveaways for bigger prizes. Think of in-demand items, a year’s supply of your product, or even luxury goods.

There's no exact formula for picking the perfect mobile app exclusive for your brand, but any one of these will definitely make app users feel like VIPs . This will ultimately solidify your app as valuable to your customers and drive retention and loyalty.

With that, let's take a closer look at brands using mobile app exclusives in the wild.

BÉIS makes the app its exclusive destination for VIP experience to keep customers engaged

Take BÉIS, for example. The sleek, fashion-forward luggage and travel accessories company uses its app not just to make shopping a gorgeous experience but to bring its best customers closer to the brand. BÉIS has a 67% higher app conversion rate vs. mobile website and a 19% higher average order value (AOV) for app customers. 

On top of all that, they also have a community of customers who can’t get enough of the brand — or its founder, actress and influencer Shay Mitchell. Luckily for those customers, BÉIS has showcased plenty of behind-the-scenes content and Shay-infused photoshoots on the app…and only the app.  

“Our consumers are highly engaged, very enthusiastic on social, and all they want is more content outside of our product,” said Julie Chalker, VP of Digital & E-Commerce. “Whether it's behind the scenes at our photo shoots or exclusive interviews with Shay… Bringing [the content] into our app has been a real benefit and a big draw.”

This community is essential to BÉIS as it grows. After all, nobody buys a suitcase every month. It could be years until a customer makes another purchase. How, then, can the brand keep customers loyal and engaged (and recommend the brand to friends and family) during that pause? 

It’s the app — and the exclusives offered on it — that gives BÉIS’ VIPs something to do and something to connect with between shopping sprees. 

After all, just like that McKinsey report warned, what’s stopping these consumers from switching to a new brand when purchasing another suitcase five years down the road? Nothing…except for loyalty that comes with keeping customers engaged and part of a community during the interim.

“I thought of introducing a mobile application not just as another revenue channel for us,” said Julie, “but also to introduce an additional way for us to have an experience for our consumers. A two-way conversation. It was kind of a no-brainer.”

True Classic leans heavily on push notifications to drive app exclusives

Another good example is True Classic, who get that app exclusives aren’t just things that drive customers to purchase. They are community-building pieces of content that drive value and boost brand affinity. For example, the brand uses push to share styling guides, gift guides, and other unique content straight to their customers’ home screens. 

Said Adam Hutton, the brand’s Associate Director of Owned Media / Retention, “We’re able to easily go into Tapcart, set up a marketing push around a promotion, a new product launch, or any seasonal moment that you can think of, and push it into one of the most intimate channels: someone's phone. It’s more intimate than a text message because you're already on the app; you're already engaging with it.”

Adam also mentioned that True Classic was able to drive more app revenue and conversions than it did the previous year. One thing he knows helped? Sending more push notifications — but sending them carefully. True Classic deployed personalized messaging that utilized emojis (SMS cannot do this) and leveraged fun taglines and puns that were playful, interesting, and intimate. 

“We sent more push notifications, but not just about the sale,” Adam said when discussing how True Classic used to push around BFCM. “There was also product exclusivity where we called out new product launches that came around that time, or exclusive packs that were only available then.” 

VRG GRL leverages content exclusives to drive engagement

VRG GRL also does a great job with app exclusivity, leveraging a Girl Guide content section full of articles and The Group Chat, a loyalty driver that hosts exclusive content and giveaways. App customers also get limited-edition wallpapers, behind-the-scenes content, and early access to VRG GRL’s most-in-demand drops before the collections sell out on the website. 

 “It’s all about trying to give the customer extra content and extra value that they can't get just from your website,” said Cale Suesskow, Co-CEO. “And in return, what we find is that this grows and grows, and you have better engagement around launches.”

Today, VRG GRL enjoys 97.2% app user retention and an 184.9% higher conversion rate in-app than on mobile.

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