Low Code Explosion: 74% of the top 50 retail apps in America are hybrid

Welcome to the seventh episode of the Low-Code Ninjas Podcast

Low-Code Ninjas shines a light on industry thought leaders and the strategies they embrace to do business successfully in an app-first, unpredictable world.

Meet our hosts

John Koetsier and Peggy Anne Salz

John Koetsier
John Koetsier is a senior contributor to Forbes, host of the TechFirst podcast, and a mobile industry analyst.

“Previously, he was the Mobile Economist for TUNE and the VP Insights for Singular.”

Peggy Anne Salz
Peggy Anne Salz is a mobile analyst, a top 30 Mobile Marketing influencer and a nine-time author based in Europe, I track and document the trends, companies and innovators shaping how we do business and engage with consumers across the multiple screens, devices and apps that define our daily lives.

IN THIS EPISODE OF LOW-CODE NINJAS :

Do you know that 74% of the top 50 retail apps are hybrid? Amazon, Walmart, Nike, and Target all use hybrid apps. Even tech-first companies like Etsy, and Groupon are hybrid as well. Tune in to the latest episode of Low Code Ninjas as our hosts, Peggy Anne Salz and John Koetsier, discuss John’s latest report on hybrid apps and learn why the most popular apps in the app stores are increasingly turning to low-code solutions to help streamline processes, save time and money, and ultimately make them more responsive and ready to respond to new challenges and opportunities.

Full Episode Transcript

(This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity).

John Koetsier: Why are 74% of the top 50 retail apps hybrid? Welcome to Low Code Ninjas. My name is John Koetsier. 

Peggy Anne Salz: And I’m Peggy Ann Salz. And so, John, native apps are built in native code, you know, it’s Java for Android apps. But hybrid apps, they’re built in web technologies like HTML and JavaScript. And increasingly, it’s not just the building blocks around these types of apps that are interesting, it’s who’s using them. Some big brands/enterprises are building hybrid apps. 

John Koetsier: So we did some research on that. FollowAnalytics had some data. I got some more data, analyzed that, and wrote a report on that. Also got a lot of insight from Samir Addamine who’s the president of FollowAnalytics, and Antony Gardez who is the co-founder and CTO. And now we’re kind of looking forward to chatting through what we learned.

Peggy Anne Salz: Absolutely. And we’re going to do it a little bit differently today, because it is your report. So we’re not having a guest, we’re just hosts …  yeah. 

John Koetsier: Yes we are. Absolutely. So, looking forward to it. Different kind of show — gonna have some fun. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Gonna change it around a bit. So why don’t we really change it around, John? Because when we are both hosts, then we have a guest. But actually we know not an awful lot about you. I know about you, John, but no one else — well, not no one else — a lot of other people might not understand all of the other things you’re doing and what you’ve brought to this research. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

John Koetsier: Sure. I mean, you know me. I write for Forbes and I consult with tech companies, but I’ve been a longtime analyst in this space as well. So I was the mobile economist for TUNE, which is a mobile measurement partner — was probably the original mobile measurement partner. I’ve been a VP of Insights for Singular, which is also a mobile measurement partner, and done a lot of other consulting and analyst-type roles elsewhere. The first time we met, Peggy, was when I was working for VentureBeat. I had written for VentureBeat as a tech journalist for about five years, but then kicked off their research division and had a lot of fun with that. And we first met around research and analysis when I was doing that in San Francisco.

Peggy Anne Salz: Absolutely, and it’s always been revolving around data. And data in journalism is a really exciting space because there’s so much insight in the numbers, and that’s what I like. I’ve been working with you, as you said, for a number of years. I think that was an ASO report by the way, John, again—

John Koetsier: Yes it was.

Peggy Anne Salz: A little bit ahead of your time, because that’s way back. I remember it was like, do we call it ‘App Store Optimization’ or ‘On Store Optimization’? Anyway, we won’t go there. But, you have new research. Let’s talk a little bit about what you discovered there — that 74%, that’s one of those stats that makes you stand up and take notice. 

John Koetsier: It really does. So we did learn that 74% of the top 50 retail apps in America are hybrid, and that’s significant, right? That’s a big deal. That’s a … why? It requires you to unpack that. And this isn’t just smaller companies. Obviously they’re the top retail apps — we’re talking Amazon here; we’re talking companies that have big multi-digit percentages of the retail space on mobile, as well as on the web, right? So Amazon, Walmart, Nike, Target all use hybrid apps. You’ve got tech companies, tech-first companies like Etsy, cool companies, right? Groupon is hybrid as well. You’ve got new up-and-comers like the sneaker superstore GOAT. You’ve got the pet food company Chewy. It’s not just the big old companies. It’s not just the tech startups. It’s a total mix of different types of companies. And, of course, the question I think we’re going to get into is: why go hybrid? 

Peggy Anne Salz: Absolutely. Those drivers are so interesting because, as you pointed out, it’s such a broad assortment of companies. You know, when you have that many companies, in that many different approaches to a vertical — the newcomers, the startups, the legacy companies, such a mix — it tells me we’re onto not just a trend, we’re onto a movement, right? So, one of the reasons would be speed, but what are the other drivers that you found in your research? 

John Koetsier: Speed is a big one, right? And so we interviewed multiple companies for this and we saw a lot of variation here. Some companies said, hey, it was a 2X speed increase. Some said 5X. There was even one company that said it was a 10X speed upgrade, and we’ll get into some of those stories as well as we go through this. It depends on the exact project. It depends on what you bring to your project as well, and it depends on the platform that you’re using. One super interesting story that made it into the research was Iterate.ai, and the CEO there is Jon Nordmark who used to be the CEO of eBags, right, which was acquired by Samsonite. They were working with a major retailer, $60 billion in annual sales. So this is really, really high level territory, right? There’s not many companies out there with $60 billion in annual sales. It was an e-commerce project and they had estimates of a year to prototype it — one year to prototype it. You know, I mean, that’s the type of estimate that maybe you worked in the 1970s, maybe in the 1980s or something like that. It does not work in the 2020s. You cannot spend a year developing some new mobile store or e-commerce application, and bring it out and hope to be relevant in the market. So in any case, in this scenario, they wrapped it up in 11 days — 11 days. The estimate was a year to prototype, they wrapped it up in 11 days. So, I didn’t even calculate what the speed advantage is there, what the multiplier is there, but it’s huge. And that was also with a brand-new BOPIS or, you know, buy online pickup in store, or curbside pickup infrastructure capability. So, pretty amazing, pretty incredible. It’s not just about the speed, but the speed is a big driver because, guess what? When you’re faster you can do a lot more, and you can try a lot more too. 

Peggy Anne Salz: And I’m always going to be into the customer experience. You’re talking about retail — you have to be fast, tastes change, things change. You brought up BOPIS. I mean, who thought of that before COVID? Who thought that was going to be such an important feature to have so quickly in what you offer in your app, right? 

John Koetsier: Absolutely, everything changed. I mean, we know that there was a 4-6X upgrade in terms of where e-commerce was, right? We know there was a four to six year speed-up in terms of the penetration of e-commerce and mobile commerce in what we’re doing and how it works across the entire economy. And that changes not just what you need to do, but how you need to do it. BOPIS is just one example of that. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah. And a great segue, because speed’s one thing, absolutely. And in retail, no question, it’s got to be at the speed of change, right? Another reason in your report that people are looking at low code, embracing it, is because, guess what? It integrates with existing infrastructure. I get that, because then you’re not having to rip out legacy. But why is that important? What did they tell you? What did you find out? 

John Koetsier: Well, as you mentioned, brands have spent a decade building e-commerce sites — maybe longer. Depends how long they’ve been in the market, depends how long they jumped on that bandwagon, right? There’s tons of functionality there. Rebuilding all of that in native code on multiple mobile platforms is super costly in time — we already talked about that — and money, right? As well as opportunity costs, what else you could be doing. And then you’re maintaining multiple tech stacks. So FollowAnalytics has a customer that we interviewed, we did this together actually, it was doTERRA. And they have, as you remember, Peggy, a super complex e-commerce set-up, right? It’s not just B2C, it’s not just B2B. It’s B2B2C, right? So they’ve got multiple layers there. They’ve got complexities in that, and because of some backend structural situations, going mobile was going to be really hard for them. This is not the same as the previous project we just talked about with the year-long prototype, this was a multi-year project that they were looking at. Reality is, they solved it in a few months and they launched their app, and they’re supporting all of their clients at various levels — their B2B clients and the clients that their clients have as well, the B2B2C. Really amazing story. 

Peggy Anne Salz: I remember that. Wasn’t that one, John, wasn’t that the one where it’s literally 2023 they were going to have their app?

John Koetsier: Yes.

Peggy Anne Salz: I believe I recall that, because I was in shock at the time thinking, so how much time did you save? Really, you want to do the math on that? And the real possibilities of accelerating that and moving with that change. I mean, it was just an amazing story. And of course you’ve got a number— 

John Koetsier: And it’s not even just about the time saved there. I mean, just think, Peggy, you know, 2023 — is the company even around at that point? And I don’t mean to speak about doTERRA because they’re a great company, a lot of things that they do. But any company, if you’re thinking we’re going to bring out an e-commerce capability on mobile, we’re going to do mobile commerce and we’re going to launch in 2023 … well, the world is changing so quickly. COVID is here, it’s not going away. So many other things happening. You simply cannot wait two years. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Yes. I can’t agree with you more. And thinking about data and our series here, Low Code Ninjas, you know, we’re going to be having other guests coming on. I’m looking at research that says how about the bottleneck in the number of developers? You know, let’s not even talk about the bottleneck in time — you cannot wait. That’s one really important point, John. You also may not have the talent. 

John Koetsier: Mm-hmm.

Peggy Anne Salz: That’s another super important point, and you’ve got so many amazing stories in this report. I don’t know if we can get to them all, but I would love to hear some more. Tell me some that maybe even didn’t make the cut. 

John Koetsier: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, we’ll get to that exact point that you just mentioned about lack of developers. So, there’s so many we couldn’t fit them all in the report, we won’t fit them all in here. But there’s one other, Uvietech, that we talked to, and they were talking about prototyping. And this was super interesting to me, because they were using low code as a way of prototyping an app, getting it up and running in a day, or a weekend project, maybe a week or something like that. That’s a game changer, right? We were just talking about [how] you can’t spend the two years. We were just talking about the pace of change right now. Well here, if you can spin up an app for a specific piece of your business or a vertical or whatever in a day, or a week, or a weekend, or whatever …  now you can test stuff cheaply. You can test new strategic directions cheaply. You can fail fast. You can try it with minimal costs, minimal time, and potential huge rewards. So that’s a really big deal. 

And then the other piece that you mentioned about [the] number of developers, right, you and I interviewed Joe Hurd. Joe Hurd is amazing. If people don’t recognize his name, he’s a long-time venture capitalist. He’s also a long-time Silicon Valley executive … he goes all the way back to Friendster, if you remember Friendster. I was on Friendster, I thought it was great. He also became, when Facebook became big, he became an executive there as well — super connected. He talked about some frankly amazing research that Microsoft has been engaged in, that Satya Nadella has talked about as well, and according to this Microsoft report, we need 500 million new apps in just the next five years. So this is mind blowing and we need to dig into this on a future podcast here, Peggy, because this is super, super interesting, right? I mean, what does that mean? What kind of apps are those? In what spaces? In what verticals? In what platforms? And what’s the definition of app? How big are those apps? But 500 million … in the next five years … how are we going to do that? We simply don’t have the developers. We simply don’t have the people. So we need smarter tools, right? We need the ability to build apps at a lower level of technical capability, so that you can get more and more of them out there and meet all those niche needs. 

Peggy Anne Salz: I was looking into that, what Microsoft says is we need the citizen developer, right? So it’s like democratizing access to the tools, access to the know-how, making it possible, because 500 million new apps in the next five years — that’s tremendous. And probably even more, if you think about all the wearables and all the great news of just the last couple months as well. So, great data, good insights, and I fully get the argument here. But of course, you know, quicker is better. Cheaper is better. Cheaper is always even the best. But our audience would also probably like to understand, okay, what is it worth? What does it do to my competitive advantage? You know, I’m going to be faster, what else does that make me? 

John Koetsier: A big piece of that competitive advantage is just beating the competition to the punch, right? You’re acquiring customers while your competitors are still working on their solution. They’re still building. They’re building for that six-month build, they’re building that nine-month build, that year-long build, and you’re up and running in a month. You’re up and running in two weeks and you can start working, start acquiring customers, and then also iterating and being better, and be on your fifth or sixth iteration by the time they launch their number one iteration, right? That’s an insane, huge competitive advantage. You’re also solving customer needs really quickly and that’s super relevant. We’ve already mentioned COVID, we’ve already mentioned the four to six year acceleration in commerce and retail due to COVID. Well, you need to be quick and you need to solve a need that emerges really, really quickly. We saw that as well — this is almost turning into a highlight show here, Peggy, because we— 

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah, that’s what I was just thinking: ‘best of.’ But we’ve had it from so many different angles, that’s the fascination with this show, is— 

John Koetsier: Absolutely.

Peggy Anne Salz: You know, from all different angles, from verticals you wouldn’t think of. And I think you’ve got a couple of those as well. 

John Koetsier: Well, you know, when you need to pivot the business, right, because of COVID, that happens really, really quickly, right? So we talked to FITNESS SF, right? They’ve got eight locations, their gyms in the Bay Area, San Francisco and around there. The pandemic hits, what happens? You’re shut down, nobody can come in, the doors are locked. Your business is toast. You can’t drive revenue. You can’t acquire customers. You can’t deliver value to the customers that you do have right now. What do you do? Well, you’ve got to go digital, right? And so they built, using FollowAnalytics, using low code building a hybrid app, they built workouts in an app. They built reservations online so when they could slowly open at minimal capacity for the physical gym, then they could also do on-demand workouts. They did one-to-one training via the mobile app. And they’re expanding, right? They’re adding video, they’re adding nutrition, they’re connecting to Apple HealthKit, they’re connecting to Android Health. And so what we really see here is that,yeah, they got tossed lemons, right? Big time. Huge lemons, and they’re making lemonade. We’re seeing necessity is a core driver of innovation.

Peggy Anne Salz: And to your point on FITNESS SF, I mean, this is really a ‘best of,’ but that was one of my favorites because it also opened my eyes to the importance of using low code to build what will be a business ecosystem. I mean, he’s going to be connecting and doing things like nutrition and medical. He’s looking at expanding his business, his sphere of influence, through low code. I think that’s an exciting angle that we’re probably going to see a lot more of, because this is the easiest, fastest way to do it. 

John Koetsier: It’s an exciting angle and what’s really kind of cool — which came out when we interviewed him, so if listeners to this podcast haven’t seen that episode or watched or listened to that episode, go back and check that out, we’ll add it in the show notes — but what was really cool is he wanted to do that all along. He wanted to add the nutrition, the holistic health capability to his gym, delivering fitness … for years, but couldn’t find a way to make it work, couldn’t find a way to make it scalable. Fast forward to COVID times and fitness is delivered via an app. Well, guess what? It’s just natural to add holistic wellness to that, and your intake of food, your output of exercise, your mental wellness, many other components to that. 

Peggy Anne Salz: And you move up the value chain, you know, there’s going to be room for you at the table when the cards are reshuffled post-COVID. So that’s really exciting, because that, in a way, is a platform play. We know that that’s a superior strategy. We know it’s possible through low code. There’s a lot going on here, but we can also talk about the platform-first approach. And when we talked to Sunil Rao, VP at Salesforce, that’s what he was talking about: the advantage of building on a platform, getting that solid before building out all the spokes and all the bespoke features.

John Koetsier: Well, it’s a great question, and it’s a big part of the report that we put together as well, right? Because when you build the core e-commerce platform, you’ve got a solid foundation. You’ve built the platform. You can use it in multiple channels. You can use it on the web. You can use it in mobile. You can even use it in social or any other channels that come up in the future. And there’s huge benefits here, right? There’s code reuse, your core functionality you build once and you express in multiple places. That means you’ve got one shopping cart across platforms. Somebody is shopping on the web, they turn to the app, guess what? Still have the same items in their shopping cart. You have one customer service functionality across all your platforms and channels as well. There’s nothing worse, Peggy, you know this, than calling a company and they can’t help you because you first contacted them via another channel and they can’t access the information on what you ordered, or what you purchased, or what you wanted, or the customer service requests that you had. Super annoying, right? 

Peggy Anne Salz: Oh yeah.

John Koetsier: You’ve got one inbox, one communications infrastructure. That means you’re never desynced, right? You never lose state on a customer. That means better customer service. It means smarter product suggestions, right? You see all the activity, you know what they’re interested in, so you can suggest products in a more intelligent way. It means a more consistent brand experience, right? And guess what? Happier customers probably means more sales. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Absolutely. And that one channel that’s so important, that’s unified what we were writing about probably for a decade, John, if not longer, right? And a decade ago, we were also probably writing about the quality of low code, right? That was a concern. There was the idea, you know, how good is the experience really? How good is the speed really? Is it just like these templates that are sort of cut and pasted together? Is that what you found out in this research, John? 

John Koetsier: Well, you know, it’s funny because I had an impression of what low code was like. And I thought, you know, you were saying what the quality was concerned — absolutely. I thought so, before we kicked off this podcast and started getting deep into low code, right? Honestly, I was not super excited about low code or low code development platforms, because my familiarity with them in the mobile space was with these sort of $99 a month online app builders, right? You’ve seen them. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Yes, templates. 

John Koetsier: You’ve seen the ads. And, you know, you essentially out of that, you’re getting some crappy, limited, cookie cutter apps and guess what — it has your name, it has some images, it has a feed of your web activity, and a few other things in there. It’s not exciting. It’s not interesting. It’s not premium. It’s not great, right? That’s not the case anymore. That’s simply not the case anymore. Now you can build full apps, we’re talking real apps, right? Total functionality, onboard native functions, biometrics, payments, pixel perfect. It’s impressive. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Well, another thing that’s really impressive is that, around the features, you know. You were talking about how quickly you can build them in, you know, video conferencing for friends over at FITNESS SF, that was a great show, you know how quickly that had to go. In your report, it also summarizes some of the top features, the popular features for top retail apps. Just at a high level, what are they? 

John Koetsier: Yeah, so we looked at those top 50 retail apps in the U.S. App Store, Google Play, and what we found is most of them are hybrid, as we talked about, right? Native navigation was huge, right? It’s got to feel like a top-notch native app. Even if it isn’t, even if it’s hybrid. Push notifications is a big deal. Guess what? Your customer is carrying your brand around in his or her pocket or purse, right? And push notifications lets you have that one-to-one direct channel. Persistent login, right? Nobody wants to log in again and again. Biometrics, Face ID, Touch ID. Well, some years ago you would have laughed if somebody would have told you that they could have a hybrid app built in a low code environment that could access the onboard camera to let somebody log in via biometrics, right? Or use Touch ID or something like that. It’s there. Apple Pay, Google Pay — so native integration into onboard payment mechanisms. That’s really, really critical for a lot of brands. So we’re pretty pumped to get this report out there and it is fully available. It’s for free. We’ll put the link in the show notes, but for anybody else who’s just listening or maybe just watching, it’s FollowAnalytics.com/the-low-code-explosion and each of those words has a dash. Maybe we shouldn’t have that, it makes it a little harder, but FollowAnalytics.com/the-low-code-explosion. 

Peggy Anne Salz: Great. And, of course, the low code explosion, I think that’s sort of gonna be close to our mantra for the rest of these shows. I mean, think about it. This report really shines a light on what’s going out there. And if hybrid works for the likes of Amazon and Walmart — I mean, we’re not talking about a number of companies, we’re talking about major companies who say having this, the speed, the MVP, I can iterate, there’s reason for doing this — it’s probably good enough reason for everybody else, John, right?

John Koetsier: You hit the nail on the head, right. I mean, look, would Amazon use an approach that doesn’t work? 

Peggy Anne Salz: No. Not possible.

John Koetsier: The problem right now is that too many retailers, they’re just not mobile ready, right? They don’t have a great mobile retail experience for their customers. So we don’t have a very level playing field. And the goal here is to help every retailer get mobile ready and get their fair share of the e-commerce pie.

Peggy Anne Salz: Absolutely. And it is a huge market. I mean, I’m looking at the research right after Cyber Monday, Black Friday, you know, retailers, people are talking about save the high street or support your local companies and retail. I mean, this is about getting in on that, because that is what it is. It democratizes access. And there are a lot of companies in sort of like the mid-size that don’t have apps, they’re just not mobile ready. 

John Koetsier: Yeah, absolutely. 

Peggy Anne Salz: So this is really important to put this out there. 

John Koetsier: Absolutely. And so, Peggy, this was kind of, you know, you and I have been doing the Low Code Ninjas podcast for, what — it’s probably been three months now, something like that? 

Peggy Anne Salz: Yeah.

John Koetsier: Somewhere around there, getting close to there. We’re learning all these amazing stories. We’ve got more amazing guests coming up. I’m really looking forward to that. And so I did this report, but you’re doing the next report. I wonder if you want to give people just a taste, maybe a tiny little taste of what you’re going to be putting into your report, which we think is coming out sometime late winter, maybe early spring or something like that?

Peggy Anne Salz: Yep, absolutely. So just like you, John, I started this and I thought low code, isn’t that that stuff, remember? But no, no. It is transformational. I’m really excited about this. So I was looking at the reports, doing a lot of desk research and I thought, you know what? We don’t really have a ‘state of’ report. We don’t fully understand all the developments in the context, for example, for the 500 million apps in five years. We need to understand in one place all the research around how many developers we need and what’s involved here. And above all, the market potential. It is astounding. So this brings all of that together in one place. And also brings in some customer interviews or just overall insights, I would say, from everyone in the industry around low code. So it’s very overarching. It’s not one company or one thing. It gives us really a snapshot of where we are, and above all, where we’re going. So it’s going to be great to work on that. 

John Koetsier: I am super excited about that. So this report was on, hey, what’s happening? What’s going on there with the top retail apps? And what are they doing? Why is it working? How does that hybrid, low code environment platform make it work? I really look forward to seeing this sort of state of low code. Where is low code right now? How many people are using it? You know, what’s the level of investment in the space? And I know we’ve done some work on that already — I can’t wait for that report. And when that comes out, then I get my turn to interview you.  

Peggy Anne Salz: I love it.

John Koetsier: Which I’m looking forward to, because I like asking questions. 

Peggy Anne Salz: I do too. I like asking questions. Answering them — well, we’ll see. But it’s insightful, I’m going to love it. I mean, just as a thought, it’s also interesting how many verticals, you know. And we’re going to have a guest on our show coming up, talking about gaming. You wouldn’t really think about this in gaming, but if you think about gaming being very, very personal and a very personal experience — particularly in these times, we spend time there — then we need almost a game for every single imaginable vertical or … not vertical, but audience segment, you know. And that’s what happens. You get sort of the breadth of apps for the total breadth of customers, but you get it through low code. Because you get everything everybody wants, it’s not that hard to be hyperpersonal, in even entertainment. So it will be exciting. 

John Koetsier: Well, I really look forward to that, and I realize that this episode just turned into a little bit of hype the future. So, there’s lots to look forward to. It’s going to be really, really cool. What we do want to do right now is for everybody who’s listening, watching, wherever you’re consuming this — whether you’re getting the full transcript which is on the FollowAnalytics site, or whether you’re on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify — hey, we really appreciate you for joining us. Thank you for joining us on the Low Code Ninjas podcast. We appreciate your time. 

Peggy Anne Salz: And of course, whatever platform you’re on, please like, subscribe, share, comment, all of the above. It’s knowledge. Knowledge is for sharing, show it around. And if you loved this podcast, please rate it, review it. That would be fantastic, a massive help. 

John Koetsier: Absolutely would be. Until then … this is John Koetsier for Low Code Ninjas. 

Peggy Anne Salz: And this is Peggy Anne Salz, signing off. Stay well, keep safe.