Why user retention is still the biggest struggle for app developers

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Of the over 3 million apps available on the App Store and Google Play, a very small number are actually download and opened by users. Of that small number of apps, an even smaller number become an indispensable part of the user’s day-to-day activities. A new study from Localytics finds that one in four mobile users open an app only once.

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Surprisingly, these user retention rates have actually increased from a year ago (from 34% to 38%), but the numbers are still disheartening for developers.

The difference between retention on Android and iOS differs depending on the report; Localytics found that iOS apps fared slightly better compared to previous years, but a similar study by Appboy found that Android apps held a slight advantage.

Most interestingly, Localytics found that mid-sized apps (identified as apps with between 15,000 and 50,000) had the strongest increases in user retention compared to previous years.

This is most likely attributed to an increased budget for retention strategies like push notifications, in-app messages, and user segmentation.

Of users that see an in-app message, 17% will use that app just once; however, 26% of users who did not see an in-app messaging abandoned the app after one use.

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For a different look at these numbers, Apsalar took a look at which apps fare the worst in terms of user retention. They found that travel apps and gaming apps had the highest 4-week uninstall rates at 31% and 29%, respectively.

Though gaming users are notoriously fickle, the travel app rate is a bigger mystery. The most likely scenario is that users download travel apps for one specific trip or booking and delete the app after the activity is completed.

Retail and shopping apps rounded out the middle of Apsalar’s study at a 28% uninstall rate with entertainment & lifestyle apps (17%) and on-demand services (12%) at the bottom.

211241The important takeaway for developers is twofold: 1) your app isn’t the only app struggling to keep users and 2) incorporating a user retention strategy before you launch will give you a leg up over the competition.

More importantly, Apple and Google seem to recognise user retention is an issue for their developers and are taking some minor steps in helping them out. For Google, they announced Instant Apps at this year’s Google I/O conference. Time will tell if these strategies end up helping developers in the long term.

For some tips on how to add a user retention strategy on a budget, check out our 5 tips for user retention.

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