October 10, 2018
The State (and Future) of Digital Marketplaces
Late last month, Hilton announced it would be deepening its partnership with ride sharing app Uber. A traveler who has both the Uber app and the HHonors app will now see the two interact in intelligent, and hopefully helpful, new ways.
For example, when a Hilton traveler opens their Uber app during a trip, Uber pulls in the hotel reservation date and address from the HHonors app and pre-populates that information into the Uber app on the day of their stay at a Hilton. At the bottom of the Uber app screen is a “View Your Stay Details” button that opens the Hilton app so the traveler can check in and choose the exact room they would like from a floor plan of the hotel. The result is a simplified experience that delights users with its intelligence. As an added bonus, it also inspires mobile checkins, an action the Hotel chain is looking to drive more of.
While this type of fluid integration between apps is still relatively rare, it is nothing new. Google has been adding intelligent interplay between their apps for years. For example, your Google Calendar automatically adds your upcoming trips based on the confirmation emails sent to your Gmail. When you search for your hotels on Google Maps the app already has information about your stay preloaded. These interactions are a no-brainer. They create a better user experience and improve the value of each app in the process. It’s worth noting that Google has a much easier time creating these interactions than most since they own the information and backend architecture of all the apps involved.
That hasn’t stopped some apps from adding value where they see an opportunity. Some apps have created entire marketplaces for their app partners. Mobile payment app Square for example has an app marketplace of over 25 apps that can be integrated with their service. Small business owners can link their Square app directly to their quickbooks account, completely automating and streamlining the bookkeeping operations for business.
Trip tracking app Automatic has a similar app marketplace with an even wider range of apps to connect with. If you’re a business traveler, you can automatically sync your trips with Concur and avoid the arduous process of expensing your milage. Or if you’re just tired of chauffeuring your lazy friends around, you can link Automatic to Unmooch and invoice them for their share of the gas money.
The options for integration are nearly limitless.
In all the cases mentioned above, bringing multiple apps together creates an experience greater than the sum of their disparate parts. Let’s look at a few other benefits for you as the business owner, not just the customer:
While the pros are certainly many, an app partnership is an investment. Like all investments, there is an inherent risk to your time, resources, and reputation. You need to do your due diligence on every potential partnership or risk the following:
So, if you’ve carefully weighed the pros and cons and decided an app partnership could be beneficial, where do you begin? Here’s a quick step by step guide.
It’s important to be an app user, not just an app maker. You need to understand what apps are out in the market, how they compare, and how they can be leveraged in conjunction with your own app. Hilton clearly understood the travel industry, the apps available, and the potential synergies before choosing to partner with Uber. It takes a degree of empathy with your customers to uncover opportunities for partnerships. Until you put yourself in there shoes, you’ll never be fully aware of all the opportunities.
Once you have a good grasp of the marketplace, the different types of apps available, and how they compare to one another, you can identify opportunities for partnerships. When looking at potential partners, ask yourself what the use case would look like. How would a user use the two apps in conjunction? How would that experience benefit them? If you can come up with a compelling use case that delivers real value, that’s a partnership worth moving forward on.
You’ll never know all of the technical requirements before entering into a partnership, but you still need to do your homework. Many established apps like Square have a well documented API. This documentation is a great place to find out what data can be shared, what it will take to connect the two apps, and how they can interact. Some apps allow you to build a connection with their API without even creating a formal partnership.
If your partnership is truly valuable to users of both apps, you need to make the partnership a consideration moving forward. Can it be improved over time? Will your next update break the connection between apps? Is there still alignment between the two apps? These are questions that need to continuously be considered as you continue to develop your app.
While partnerships come with a long list of challenges and pitfalls, the results can create some truly spectacular experiences for your users. Take a long look at the other apps your users engage with and the other apps in your marketplace. You may just find a future partner.