App to date

It’s a familiar scene these days – friends sitting around a table in a coffee shop, chatting, but all glued to their phones, tapping away at emails or social media, perhaps booking a table for dinner, or even checking bank accounts. Smartphones have become an integral part of our lives – we need only look at the fuss made over Apple’s iPhone 6 launch in September to see just how obsessed we have become with mobile technology.

Unfortunately, our industry has earned itself a reputation as somewhat technophobic. Lopo Champalimaud, cofounder and chief executive of beauty bookings site Wahanda, estimates that as many as 90% of beauty and spa businesses are still operating with a paper diary. While this seems high, if only a minority of salons have been coaxed into taking their operations into a digital format, it seems unlikely that many will be hurrying to launch an app.

But the mobile market is booming, whether or not the beauty industry is ready to keep up. More than 100billion apps were downloaded worldwide in 2013. Consumers spend 158 minutes every day on their smartphones, according to app company Sappsuma, while Phorest reports show that outside of calls and texts, 82% of smartphone use is done on apps rather than on a web browser.

“Nowadays, if you have a business, it is assumed you will have a website,” says Sappsuma’s head of business development Dan Strutt. “Apps are moving in the same direction.”

Beauty consumers themselves aren’t shying away from mobile technology. Wahanda launched its app earlier this year and Champalimaud explains that the company is currently seeing about 35% of its bookings coming through the app. He expects it to rise to 50% by the end of the year. “Mobile is huge. I think women will book 90% of their services on their mobiles very soon,” he says.

At the moment, it’s mainly women in the London area using the Wahanda app, usually aged 25-34 and professional, according to the company’s data. Bookings tend to peak between 8-10am and 7-8pm, and the most popular treatments include nails, waxing and deep tissue massage.

Essential features

Like a website, a salon app can be as basic or as advanced as you make it. Strutt explains that app features can include things like push notifications (alerts that pop up on your smartphone in a similar way to a new text message), loyalty and client referral schemes, and mobile booking.

Stock image of woman on mobile“One useful feature is recommend-a-friend. Salons can incentivise clients to give recommendations, which they can post on their social media. If friends click the link it will download the app on their phone, and we can incorporate a welcome voucher to encourage them to book. It’s basically taking word-of-mouth online, but incentivising clients to do that,” he says.

Using push notifications rather than emails to alert clients to offers or last-minute appointments has the advantage of reaching them on their phone wherever they are, but without the costs incurred by text message marketing. In fact, filling empty columns at the eleventh hour has proved to be the most appealing app function to salon owners.

“We started with a problem, which was ‘how can salons get rid of empty appointments, especially at the last minute?’,” says Menno Kuijper, marketing manager at Gappt, which has been developing apps for salons for two and a half years. Gappt apps, he explains, are able to integrate with a salon’s booking software, identify empty slots, and notify users of last-minute availability, as well as allowing clients to request appointments further in advance.

“One salon we work with had 117 requests in the last 30 days from their app, and 72% of those were for today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, which shows a lot of clients are now planning late,” he adds.

Champalimaud agrees, saying that the most popular feature of Wahanda’s app has proved to be its “Near You” facility, which lets users search for a particular service on offer near their current location, in the next couple of hours. “People love that; they can come out of a meeting, have an hour to kill, and think, ‘Ok, where can I get my nails done?’,” he says.

Mobile technology is not only there to make your clients’ lives easier. Salon management apps, which allow salon owners and managers to access the diary remotely, can be a big help to businesses. Lisa Howles, sales consultant who heads up the Premier Spa software system, says both her new and existing accounts expect this service as standard now from salon software.

Likewise, Champalimaud says this is an area that Wahanda is focusing on. As well as the consumer app, the brand has a supplier app for both iPhone and iPad that allows salons to manage their diary and bookings.


Getting it right

Consumer apps for salons may have a strong track record of pulling in clients last minute, but mobile booking is still a grey area, as many apps don’t offer booking in real time. In more simple – and therefore cheaper – app platforms, the booking systems tend to show clients the available appointments and allow them to request a booking, which the salon can then confirm. For many salon owners, this ability to retain control over the diary is appealing, but Champalimaud argues that this process is outdated and likely to turn off prospective clients.

“What I find really frustrating with a lot of apps that I see is that they have really poor booking experiences. If I’m sitting on a bus on my salon’s app, I just want to book my appointment. I don’t want to have a three-way SMS/ email conversation,” he says.

He also warns that it can be hard to get clients interested in apps for individual salons. “For accomodation, you’re not going to download an app for every hotel you might stay at, you’ll only have a Booking. com app,” he says.

Likewise, Kuijper warns against jumping on the tech bandwagon and getting an app for the sake of it. “An app needs to solve a clear problem,” he explains. “If it’s just going to replicate the same information that’s on your website, then it’s not going to do anything. If you go for mobile, do something that people specifically want to do on their mobile.”

SALON VIEW

Wendy Smith, owner, House of Beauty, Chippenham App developed by Sappsuma 

“We’re so pleased with our app. Since we launched it in June we’ve hired the same company to host our website, so the two now work in unison. I can update it every month with offers and news.

The app is very user friendly; we’re about to launch Clarins, so I can update our treatment menu and price list myself, with photographs and images. I just think it’s a great way of keeping on top of things, because it connects to everything. To me, it’s like a hub of everything we do online.

We use it a lot for late availability with the push notifications. We don’t have lots of appointment availability, but in the last two months, the app has probably filled at least half the white space I have had. To me, that’s one of the best things. We get lots of appointment requests from the app on Wednesdays and Sundays, because that’s when we’re closed.

Client feedback has been really positive, because, of course, they don’t actually have to log in or do anything. Usually, last-minute appointment alerts are the last thing we do at night, so clients wake up in the morning and they’ve got the push notification on their phone.

It’s already gaining us new clients, and it will gain us more as time goes on.

Every time someone rings up to make an enquiry, our receptionist prompts them to download the app, because all the information is on there. It will even act as a little satnav to get you to our front door.” 

Gillian Chapple, director, Beauty Be Mine, Surrey App developed by Gappt

“We went live with our app in June. We haven’t been running it for that long, but we were really stunned with the reaction it got. In the first three weeks we took nine new clients via the app and in the three months we’ve been running it, 20% of new clients have come via the app, and of those, 37% have rebooked.

Our customers love it; we’ve found that existing clients will look and see that there’s a slot either before or after their appointment, so they’ll say, ‘Can I add something to my treatment?’ People are looking at it and making last-minute decisions to get something extra fitted in.

We also find that people use it a lot late at night. I wonder if that’s maybe people out with their friends, making arrangements to do something and thinking, ‘I’ll need a wax or a tan for that’, so they shoot out a request while it’s on their mind. The clients also like that they can be sitting in their open-plan office and book their Hollywood without anybody knowing.

We only display availability for the next seven days. And we don’t use the push notifications when we put the appointments up, because we didn’t want to annoy people with lots of messages coming through. However, if we have a cancellation that we can’t fill from our waiting list, that will go on the app and as a push notification.

We’ve got about 175 clients registered on it. We gave a 10% discount on bookings made via the app when it first launched but we’re already seeing return visits. We’re based in a health club that’s down a long drive – we have no frontage, no external signs, and no full-time receptionists, so the apps is really useful.”