The Rise of Mobile Apps
The dominance of apps was not always a sure thing. When the smartphone emerged, many believed that the “mobile web,” which is a scaled down version of the regular web, optimized for mobile browsers, would be the big winner. Instead, users now spend six times more time with their apps than they do on the mobile web. And while you, the parking provider, should still make sure that your web site is optimized for display on mobile devices, it is clear that apps will be the primary way that your consumers interact on the smartphone.
Transportation is the ideal category for mobile applications, and large valuable companies like Uber and Waze have already been created based on highly useful apps (neither of these companies even has a transactional website!) According to Gartner, an IT research company, another 138 billion apps will be downloaded in 2014, making it likely there will be even more game-changing transportation apps coming down the line. For parking providers, this represents a huge opportunity to capture consumer mindshare. It also represents some large challenges.
Perhaps the biggest challenge is that app development is much more expensive than web development. It is also not for novices. Mobile application developers typically charge from $90 to $200 an hour and can be hard to come by given the high demand for their services. The cost of developing a single app ranges from $25,000 to $250,000, and many cost much more than that. You will also likely have to build two apps (double the cost!): one for Apple’s iOS platform, and another for Google’s Android platform. Microsoft apps are yet another up and coming type of app, although this platform does not yet have as much transaction.
Even with talented mobile developers in place, apps need a compelling value proposition in order to gain traction with consumers. One of the reasons most cited for the dominance of apps vs. the mobile web, is that apps give companies more control over the user experience. The best (and most popular) apps create “magical” experiences for their users, something that most of us have come to expect from our mobile apps. If an app fails to deliver on that promise, it will be quickly deleted from the phone, or never even downloaded at all. This is why most non-gaming apps today typically feature some kind of functionality, rather than just information. For example, a parking app that can manage a monthly account and vend a gate has more utility to a user than one that simply shows a provider’s hours of operations and pricing.
Another challenge you may find building your own app is getting found in the iTunes and Google Play app stores. There are already over 1 million apps available for download, with another 700 added daily. Only a few dozen apps ever make the first page of app results on a given day, meaning that most app downloads get driven directly by you, with little help from the stores themselves. Consumers also review apps, with results posted at the point of download. Typically, only apps that have the best reviews ever see a critical mass of downloads.
One alternative for your parking facility to get app visibility, without the expense of building an app yourself, is to participate with one of the existing third-party parking apps on the market. There are currently at least two-dozen independent parking applications in the various app stores. These apps aggregate parking provider information to provide a greater utility to drivers, than they might get in a single provider’s app.
There are three primary types of third-party parking apps. First are the “data provider” apps, which let drivers compare off-street facility parking rates, hours of operations and amenities within a geographic region. ParkMe, Parkopedia and BestParking are all examples of this type of app. Typically, information about parking providers is included in these apps’ datasets by default, and you don’t necessarily need to sign up to gain visibility. However, many of these apps offer coupons or other special deals to help certain providers stand out among all of the facilities in a given locale.
The second type of app is the “advanced booking” app, which allows a driver to find, book and pay for parking prior to arriving at his or her destination. ParkWhiz, SpotHero and ParkingPanda are all examples of this type of app. The appeal of an advanced booking app is that it requires minimal integration by the parking provider, but can result in trackable, incremental sales. These app companies typically charge a commission of about 15%, but only when they drive you a direct sale. This makes it virtually risk-free to list. As more and more drivers book their parking in advance via their phones (or connected cars), it is likely that these types of apps will grow in prominence.
The third type of app is the “parking payment” app, which allows drive-up customers to pay for parking via a mobile phone. QuickPay, ParkMobile and PaybyPhone are all examples of this type of app. These apps can span both on-street and off-street parking options, and are largely regional in scope. These apps typically require you to have a deeper integration with the app provider, but can benefit all of your customers (and not just those searching for parking on an app), because payment signage is displayed at each of your parking locations.
Regardless of whether you build your own app, participate with a third party app, or do both, the important thing is that you do something. Because, in the end, mobile app usage is only going to grow. It’s official.
Tim Brennan is the COO of Parkwhiz.
He can be reached at email@example.com.