When Coach released its iOS app in 2014, apps were all the rage. A lot has changed in two years.

“The app is no longer viable” said Dana Randall, Coach’s head of innovation, at an Advertising Week panel on Monday morning. “We weren’t getting the usage we needed to keep updating it.”

Earlier this year, Coach pulled its mobile app from the App Store, and is instead shifting its attention to iMessage, hoping to play in a space where users are already spending time every day. With a new iOS 10 integration, Coach is building upon its Coachmoji keyboard app that launched in May.

The iMessage integration for brands is a new addition to iOS. It allows companies to align themselves closer to Apple’s messaging system than ever before, on par with one-on-one integrations available on competitor apps WhatsApp, Kik, Line, WeChat and Facebook Messenger. Burger King, Disney, Toyota and more brands launched sticker stores when the software rolled out.

Coach’s integration adds a more interactive element than sticker-swapping. Users can add the Coachmoji app to their applications drawer in iMessage and create “mood boards” with stickers fashioned after the brand’s latest collection. Complete looks and individual shoes, bags and tops are represented in the stickers and divided into categories, like “Road Trip,” “New York City,” and “American Prairie,” the same themes from the Spring 2017 collection. After creating the board, users can save it to their phones, as well as share it with friends, who can add their own stickers.

The iMessage integration is a collaboration with Snaps, the platform for branded emoji keyboards. Coach is the first brand to test this type of interactive keyboard with the company. In the past two weeks, Randall said that daily engagement has surpassed that of the brand’s former app.

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The Coach iMessage app

Moving from mobile app to iMessage is part of Coach’s ongoing comeback plan. After a few years of slumping sales and associations with constant discounts, the luxury brand is working to rebuild its image and get closer to its consumers. During its most recent earnings report, which saw quarterly comparable sales increase by 11 percent to $1.15 billion, CEO Victor Luis said that the company’s main priority was connecting the consumers beyond promotions, which the company has cut back on.

With iMessage, Coach hopes to add a new interactive feature to its emoji app while joining customers where they’re already spending their time. The problem with the brand’s mobile app, Randall said, is that it requires brands to convince customers to spend time there.

“Our emoji keyboard was getting much more usage than our app,” she said. “The keyboard is where the user is, we don’t have to say ‘hey remember this app you downloaded? You need to use it.’ So we’re putting our eggs in that basket. We didn’t want to beg our users to come to us.”

Coach isn’t alone in finding it hard to make a case for the retail mobile app. Patagonia pulled its app earlier this year after realizing that the mobile web could do everything the app could. Without providing a user experience that isn’t possible elsewhere, the need for an app diminishes.

“When apps first started, the assumption for retailers was that a majority of people would use it,” said Yory Wurmser, eMarketer’s retail analyst. “But it’s actually a minority. The average shopper is not going to download the app.”

Coach’s mobile app wasn’t commerce driven; it instead focused on branded content and customer service. Randall said that it didn’t bring in any revenue. But its iMessage play isn’t directly tied to sales, either. There’s no connection from the iMessage application to the brand’s mobile store, although Randall said it’s something that could be integrated down the line.

“We’re a considered purchase,” she said. “It’s a higher price point, it’s not an impulse buy. So, we need to help the customer understand what our products are so when they want to buy, they know what to look for.”

Even though Coach is playing in the conversational commerce place, it hasn’t yet rolled out a chatbot either, as Randall said the backend logistics for customer service outside of its e-commerce live chat aren’t yet in place. Right now, Coach is instead using the integration for product-related content.

“It’s a new medium,” said Randall. “It’s nice to be among the first, but we need more brands on board to prove long-term value.”

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