2019 Top Apps: Retail, QSR, Telecommunications, Entertainment

Mobile app engagement is increasingly important for brands. But which brands are actually doing this really well, personalizing their user’s experiences, and seeing tangible results in the process?

Two weeks ago, we reviewed the 20 top 2019 apps in banking, personal finance, and hotels/lodging. This week we’re reviewing the top 20 apps in retail, quick serve restaurants, telecommunications, and entertainment. 

As a quick refresher: we’re using our “Stages of Personalization” model to rate each app. The Stages of Personalization model takes into account:

  • Audience
  • Message
  • Timing

When we analyze these apps, it’s through a combination of how effectively they personalize their in-app and overall mobile experience for users. We will often link to their app review page when linking the name of the brand, in case you want to read a slate of reviews before adding it to your phone. 

These 20 apps are from retail, quick-service food (think Chipotle), entertainment, and wireless/telecommunications. 

Retail Apps

American Eagle: AE has been on the personalization train for a few years, launching a connected loyalty program in ‘18. At the time, they said -- as many brands will -- “staying connected to customers is the core of everything we do.” They go above and beyond, though, including having customized local events such as making your own jeans in NYC. Back in 2016, AE realized more than 50% of their customers were shopping on mobile, so they doubled down on mobile to make the process both easier and more personalized. The results have been characterized as “on fire.”

Bed Bath and Beyond: Mobile has been performing great as a channel, which began when they overhauled their in-app and broader mobile strategy to focus more on personalization. This involved individual recommendations, easier storage and combining of coupons, and a deeper investment in data that included a mobile integration to in-store point of sale systems.

Best Buy: Best Buy was one of the earlier big box retailers to incorporate check-ins as a way to drive loyalty, and they started viewing mobile and digital as personalized advice channels. Barrons recently called their stock “the most undervalued in retail,” and much of their sales and revenue growth has come not from brick and mortar strategies, but better integration between a personalized mobile experience and either (a) mobile checkout or (b) customers then coming into the store and having exactly what they want available and in front of them.

Macy’s: Macy’s increasingly turned to mobile as brick and mortar costs rose. Merchandise selections in-app are now based on past shopping and spending patterns, and they added virtual reality for checking out certain outfit combinations. Their chief digital revenue officer, Jill Ramsey, told Fortune that “smartphones really are the new front window.” That’s a big statement.

Home Depot: Home Depot has long been good at geolocation and ideas like augmented reality, to allow customers to visualize faucets and other household needs before coming in to buy. As for the geographic personalization:

First, the brand’s app looks at a shopper’s region to tie in localized design trends and products.Consumers in California would receive a different set of recommendations than someone living in Maine. Stores are geofenced, so when a consumer enters the app, which has been downloaded 20 million times, with Home Depot Pro customers making up one-third of monthly visits, it shifts into “store mode” and displays products’ locations. Some select stores even will have Waze-like guided directions to aisles.

Quick Service Retail Apps

Chipotle: Chipotle has been surging this year financially, and in 2017 they added more personalized in-app features, including:

  • Quick reorder
  • Easier ability to redeem offers
  • Apple and Android Pay
  • Immediate store location
  • Enhanced design
  • Streamlined UX

Basically, when you want a tasty burrito, you go into the app and the app knows exactly what you want (because of your history) and where to go grab it (because of where you’re at) and everything moves quickly to your goal of sweet burrito bliss. That’s the essence of personalization.

Dairy Queen: Dairy Queen, which may seem a bit like a throwback for Gen Z despite the Stranger Things 3 inclusion in the mall, actually has a great loyalty/rewards program in-app, with their senior manager of digital even noting it wasn’t a direct sales play: “While we believe there is significant opportunity to use mobile to drive sales, we believe that mobile makes an impact if it drives our customers to visit us just one more time each month.” Loyalty! While DQ has all the common features of a QSR app, i.e. order ahead, the cornerstone of their mobile approach is to drive loyalty, believing that loyalty over time will drive revenue. Right now, that’s working out well for their franchises, who are becoming more affluent.

Domino’s: Domino’s is a popular mobile case study of the last five years. Who doesn’t adore the Order Tracker? Domino’s has driven revenue, and beaten back Pizza Hut, using its mobile strategy, which is based on in-app personalization (they know what pizza and sides you want), seamless mobile ordering, and realizing that when 60% of your orders are mobile, you need to really be focusing there. Domino’s points to an important element of all these successful apps: when the app is becoming the core of the business, the business needs to pivot to focus on the app. The app can’t be a “nice to have” when it’s 60% of orders. You need to change your internal culture, often, to embrace mobile as the most relevant channel you have.

Jack in the Box: You know them from their funny/weird TV spots, but the app experience is highly personalized, including special mobile exclusives, easy reorder from the past five orders, saving your favorite order for one-tap ordering, push notifications tied to both geo and previous order history (i.e. that 1am run), and “read your mind” features that prompt you to the food you want right then (again, think of 1am). 

Taco Bell: In addition to easier customized orders, Taco Bell did an interesting thing a few years ago. They had a “social blackout,” so you couldn’t follow them on Facebook, Instagram, etc. That would seem like a death knell for some brands, but it forced all the interaction for customers to move in-app, which was super effective for app launch. Everyone who wanted Taco Bell (who doesn’t?) had to move in-app. In 2017, three years later, Mobile Marketer awarded them “Mobile Marketer of the Year.” They’re creative in-app, which is fun, but they also personalize the food contemplation and food ordering experience for their users, and that’s why the users keep coming back.


Bell Canada: MyBell is Bell Canada’s primary app. We’ve been doing an increasing amount of work with telecommunications recently, and MyBell has everything a telco needs to be set up for success with app/mobile strategy: view, download, pay bill; view mobility and data usage; easily manage travel usage; personalized channel lineups; personalized advice on Internet/data usage, etc. Digital transformations are escalating in telecommunications, and Bell and others are poised to be at the forefront, including:

Charter Communications: We talked recently about multi-app vs. single-app strategy, and Charter is one of the more effective multi-app strategies out there. They have a suite of apps related to Spectrum and Charter, with a broad anchor app (Spectrum TV) and lots of niche apps allowing users to personalize content offerings from their phone.

Orange: Orange is also a multi-app strategy, with the primary app offering users the ability to customize the application following his entity subscribe to the entities they wish to follow and their favorite themes, access to exclusive content, video articles, computer graphics, podcasts, and the ability to like articles, save them for later reading even without connection, and be prompted to new articles because of their history. 

Rogers: MyRogers is their main app. The company has understood the value of its role in the mobile marketing ecosystem for years, partnering with brands to provide better location services for targeting. Deloitte actually did a full profile recently of how Rogers shifted to a more customer-centric organization through a comprehensive use of apps, self-service opportunities for customers (checking bills and usage), Facebook Messenger bot responses for FAQs, and more.

Cricket Wireless: In keeping with the theme, this app is called “myCricket.” You can log in using biometrics -- the heart of personalization! -- and you can easily add features like high-speed data, mobile hotspots, Cricket International, and more right from in-app. 

Entertainment Apps

Before we begin: TechCrunch noted this spring that a revolution is coming in personalized entertainment, including -- this one might blow your mind -- different episode orders for Love, Death, and Robots based on previous user preferences. The “Baldersnatch” episode of Black Mirror had interactive, personalized content as well. As a result of all this, we really need to say Netflix is one of the better personalization entertainment apps in the game. (And it just reported its first user drop in a decade.)

Other apps slaying the personalization game:

  • Bleacher Report: You select the teams, leagues, players, and news stories you’re interested in, so your content is always highly-personalized. Plus: the app has exclusive features (i.e. reporting) and offers related to your interests, and breaking news push notifications, which are highly-relevant to only your interests, happen instantly. You’ll know something about your team way before your buddy will. 
  • TED: This is how machine learning and algorithms should work, ideally. As you discover talks, which can happen in an easy-to-navigate “Discover” area, the app will personalize content and notifications for you based on what you engaged with for the longest amount of time. Then, it will send you updates on related talks, or new talks from the same types of speakers. You get smarter by just having your phone in your pocket. Win-win.
  • Pocket: This is a content curation app with the slogan “Save, Read, Grow.” One of the best features for users here is a seamless integration and sync between web and mobile. We talk about mobile a lot, but increasingly people want to see similar features on web -- it’s why we at Localytics are doing more with web push this quarter -- because they spend so much of their day at work, and having web notifications or web sync with mobile makes a lot of sense. Pocket also has a strong “recommended” feed to personalize content ideas.
  • Songkick: We won’t belabor this one. Just look at how they personalize their shot at getting you to opt-in to push:


You interested yet? We are. 

And now, you.

What’s your favorite app on your phone? What has the best approach to personalized content? Which app do you think “knows” you the best? Holler at us and let us know.