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The holiday season is upon us, which means that time-honoured traditions are brought down from the metaphorical attic and dusted off. This season is a time for family, a time for feasting, and a time to get elbowed repeatedly by strangers in the quest for a cut-price TV in the Black Friday sales. But this year, thankfully, our trusty smartphones can offer an alternative way for shoppers to get their fix.

In 2016, customers spent $3.34 billion on Black Friday. Whilst that’s certainly impressive, Alibaba’s Singles Day event earlier this November achieved record-breaking sales of $25 billion. One factor the two events share is an impressive growth of mobile orders year on year: 48 percent of online orders placed as part of Black Friday 2016 were via mobile devices, a 20% increase on the previous year’s figures. In the lead up to Singles Day, Alibaba prepared by rolling technology out to smaller stores: as well as using facial recognition payment, Alibaba connected retailers via an app, which meant that local stores could be used to have orders delivered within hours.

All these figures point to one thing: mobile technology has become both a huge opportunity and an operational necessity of major events. With a single day accounting for a significant proportion of retailers’ total annual sales, the pressure is on to make sure that every customer’s experience from wishlist to purchase is as smooth as possible this Black Friday. And that’s where apps really come into their own. Below are three features of highly-rated apps that could make this year’s sales a walk in the park, and that offer takeaways that are applicable all year round.

Find It

We all know that very particular type of frustration that comes from seeing something you want but, despite hours of scrolling, being unable to find where to buy it. The ASOS app offers a solution to this with its image search feature: users upload a photo of the item they’re looking for, and ASOS will show the closest matches they stock. Known by some as ‘the shazam of clothing’, ‘find similar’ technology has been around for a few years now, but the majority of apps fail to match much more than the item colour, and the ASOS mobile app has far better reviews other ‘find similar’ apps on the market. The feature makes it easy to compile a wishlist of what you want from the sales, rather than wasting valuable time trying to find whether those shoes you’re looking for even exist.

Try It

Augmented reality and apps go together like cranberry sauce and turkey. The Sephora app’s Virtual Artist feature uses AR to try out virtual makeup on your own face, allowing you to see which colours and styles suit you without having to compete for mirror space in a crowded store. This impressive use of AR allows you to move around and see the makeup from all angles, and to switch constantly between different styles. Rather than trying to remember which shade looked better, Virtual Artist can also take photos to make comparisons easy, and, should the mood strike you, to share them with the world via social media. With items like makeup that are non-returnable, helping customers feel sure about their decision is critical to ensure that they reach the point of purchase.

Buy It

The same applies to price. Buyer’s regret – the feeling when you realise you missed out on a better deal – is all too real, but taking your time to weigh up the options is almost impossible when there’s a crowd of people all reaching for the same thing. Shop Savvy lets you find out instantly whether this is the best price on a specific product, and if not, where to find it. The app uses the phone camera to scan barcodes, and Shop Savvy will then show you both options to buy online and a map with local stores that stock it.


  • Don’t underestimate the power of reviews. If people are downloading your app to prepare for an event, they want to be sure it’s going to work for them when push literally comes to shove. To make sure that your app stands out in a crowded store, read our advice on how to boost your review score using push notification surveys and a two-step process.
  • The apps above all rely on having camera permissions enabled. Having the most exciting, functional features in your app is all well and good but if users aren’t giving the permissions those features need, the app will be almost useless to them. Find the right moment to send those permission requests and explain the value to the user to make them more likely to click ‘Accept’.
  • These features are all designed to get a job done – finding a replacement for your shirt, seeing if an eyeshadow suits, or getting the best price on that TV. Users look to them to answer a query, and if something distracts them as they’re trying to buy the last item before it sells out, they’re going to be (understandably) annoyed. Timing push notifications and feature introductions right is in your interest as well as theirs, to avoid losing users faster than you can say ‘Out of stock’.