As consumers spend more time engaging with their smartphones, retailers are looking for ways to engage with them. These days, larger retailers are spending as much as $30,000 to develop mobile apps. But the real challenge is getting consumers to pay attention to these apps.

During a recent Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce conference, Justin Johnson from Sierra Trading Post, described the strategies retailers can use to attract consumers to apps. Many retailers have realized that their apps are competing with thousands of others in the marketplace. In addition, the Apple marketplace doesn’t offer a separate category for a shopping app.

To generate interest, retailers must promote the existence of their apps. They can do this on their websites and through a mass emailing to their in-house customer list.  Retailers might also consider a paid search ad campaign but Johnson noted that mobile search is a more expensive endeavor than traditional online search because of the limited inventory, linked to the small screen space on smartphones. Well-heeled retailers can afford to spend $1 million on an ad campaign to promote an app – and that’s about what it takes to drive enough clicks and downloads to make it to the top of the list on Apple’s marketplace.

Smaller retailers can take more conservative steps to engage consumers. After a shopper has downloaded the app, he or she needs a reason to use it. Retailers should adjust their communications – and perhaps use a promotional e-mail that opens within the app. This shift gets the consumer in the habit of interacting with the app and hopefully taking the next step which is to shop at the store or directly through their mobile device.

The mobile app as a promotional and sales tool is still a process under development for merchants. But they should know that they don’t need to spend huge sums to turn the app into a productive tool.

[Source: Mobile Commerce Forum: State small and cheap with app marketing. InternetRetailer.com. 10 Oct. 2011. Web. 20 Oct. 2011]