I wrote about Lifestyle apps and their use by banks in my old piece How Lifestyle Apps helps Banks, and thanks for all who responded back with great feedback and discussions around this, but I get a lot of questions about what are the best strategies to embed the collaboration of two different organizations on a lifestyle apps.
This a very pertinent question as a lifestyle app created by any company should provide a basic framework for all its partners to be able to connect and plug in their services, and I see a lot of attempts in the market that begin with an ambitious start but stop short of reaching the full potential, and the partners feel disillusioned with the integration challenges.
Though the idea is great, but Banks usually are guilty of shoddy execution. Marketplace maturity is a big responsibility and the standard approach I notice in many Banks based ecosystem apps is very basic and relying on creating links to the parent websites on their apps and think that this would help the end users to navigate to the partner’s website and that would foster the link to go through to an actual sale, but in most of the cases it doesn’t.
Let’s get back to the drawing board.
Why we started this initiative and why any ecosystem will exist? To drive business. Any partner will only join a platform only if it offers a benefit and, in the world of e-commerce the obvious benefit is sales increase. So, the end goal is to get the maximum deals for the partner so that the partner gets more sales and platform gets more commission.
Now, to facilitate sales, any ecosystem will have to consider following:
- What drives Partner’s current online sales
- Their customer profiles
- And finally, what customer journey’s the partner is currently offering on their own website.
To provide value, a platform/ecosystem bare minimum provides the same existing customer journeys (that lead to revenue generation) that the partner provides on their site. Otherwise, why would anyone use your platform to access services of the partner, if the end-user feels more sales features are available on partner’s own app or website then they will hop on to the partner’s website instead of platform app or website.
Let us take a few examples to understand this concept. In 1990, to book flights people used to go to travel agents. Why? Because travel agents had a license to connect to IATA’s mainframes that will provide a consolidated view of all flights with prices, and they could find the best (cheapest) flight, add a mark up to the sale and give you the quote. People seldom asked how much markup that agent is adding. Yes, sometimes people used to get a quote from multiple agents to see the cost variance and choose the cheapest one. They’re not buying the cheapest ticket, but the ticket with least commission.
What happened from 1996 onward, due to DotCom boom all Airlines started having their own websites with the price listed there on the website. What happened as a result? People instead of going to Travel Agent started booking tickets directly. Airlines were benefitted as they no longer were paying any commission to agents, and they figured out how much margin agents usually keep (say 5%) and they put their tickets with 2% markup and still the cost used to be cheaper than the agent’s and still the sales were boosted. Middleman felt the pinch and many travel agents went out of business.
Next revolution came in this space when travel websites came along. The web technologies advanced to next level and capability to crawl the websites and get access to cost databases of Airlines became feasible. What happened next was the integration of multiple airline databases into a single search query and a travel aggregator website model flourished. Now airlines were pitted against each other. This time airline margins took a hit and economy travel market boomed.
Why would you buy your ticket today from Kayak, or Zuji, or Expedia or Cheap Tickets? Cost efficiency is the answer and ease of comparing fares and airlines. So, all the above websites are platforms & targeted ecosystems for travel. In the end, they flourish because they drive sales for airlines.
To get the same effect, a Bank’s platform should give value to both
What makes an ecosystem tick?
A happy customer is always good for business. The ever-true adage of marketing fits perfectly for ecosystems as well. Happy partners (ease of onboarding and increased sales) and happy customers (single app for multiple needs, added discounts) are key, for any platform’s success.
To lead to that first hurdle is making platform onboarding easy for your partners. Please keep in mind making a platform/ecosystem is different from making a simple marketplace. A marketplace usually offers a simplified platform for multiple vendors to host their services and use the marketplace to do business. Many times, marketplaces are just basic services, entire advertising, sales & product promotion is done by the vendor himself as there are other competing vendors exist on the same marketplace. A marketplace only offers options and thus best quality through competition.
An ecosystem enables end to end customer journeys, not just quality through competition. You use an ecosystem of a lifestyle app for ease of doing most of your things on a single app. It becomes increasingly important to give a seamless experience to the users on the app, and this is where a lot of lifestyle apps miss the mark.
What I’ve noticed in many lifestyle apps, is a typical challenge, of hopping from one app to another. Imagine, there is a movie theatre chain that has its own app. As a bank you want to onboard that partner on your app, why would end users use your lifestyle app instead of an existing app of this movie theater chain who has painstakingly build a very functional and good app for their own business?
Now imagine, if on your lifestyle app you have included a link or route to book tickets. If that link takes you out of your app and
Now here lies a big problem. How can you emulate such features of your partner’s app? In effect, you’re asking to build an entire app for the movie tickets booking in your own lifestyle app. This is a very common discussion that every ecosystem/platform development team faces, and this is the ultimate challenge you must tackle to give a truly functional ecosystem or lifestyle app.
Let API architecture and design thinking come to your rescue. Sit with your partner’s tech team for this integration and build APIs that will talk to each company’s tech stack and get the most important features shared on the ecosystem app. This adds challenges like tech team of the partner may not corroborate as they fear job losses or their own app’s relevance getting lost. Alleviate such fears by fostering a true partnership and offer to build a joint task force that will take some of your partner’s developers to your ecosystem team.
Building a lifestyle app is very easy, but making it work with the users is a very tedious process. Unless it truly becomes a partnership, a partner will never be fully integrated on the platform. Work on identifying the people issues too as for any platform to click, people must agree to integrate the processes else you’ll end up with an app with patchy performance and too many breaks. Key to success is to deliver value and contribute to successfully complete the customer journey without any breaks. Once a platform delivers that, people will onboard and will remain loyal to the app for a longer time. Happy coding and happy building relationships.
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