Computers are far from being phased out, but mobile devices are giving them some stiff competition. As a small business, you have to be ahead of the technology trends. More small shops are taking advantage of mobile applications to connect with their customers. Sometimes it makes sense to embrace a mobile app, but other times, you could be wasting your time.

Will My App Provide Useful Services?

For a business that gives customers direct control over certain services – a bank, for example – an app might make sense, especially if it lets them perform tasks they already can on a computer.

Banks use mobile apps to give customers more access to and control over their accounts, as well as the tools to make minor changes (transfers, balance inquiries and online payments). Some have even adopted technology that allows a customer to deposit a check simply by taking a picture and submitting it through an app. Chase Bank and USAA are larger companies that are paving the way for local banks who are rolling out similar services.

Other service related apps are targeted at business owners. From any location, they can keep track of inventory, manage freelance billing and other data and gauge employee productivity. Vehicle tracker GPS apps, for example, let a business monitor company vehicles en route.

From a consumer standpoint, mobile apps allow them to store data and images (think cloud storage) and browse merchandise or news articles based on personal preference. Consumers increasingly take these service features for granted, so it’s important not to be left behind.

The window is finite, to be sure. Not all businesses are built around interactive services, and developing an app could be a waste of your time. Still, if you are pushing a product, you could offer a different type of app. More on that below.

Will an App Help Me Sell Products?

When it first became clear that mobile apps would grow to dominate how consumers interact with businesses, restaurants and other delivery companies were among the first to get onboard. Larger companies – such as pizza chains, Amazon and Ebay – went first. Then came businesses like GrubHub and Since then, even smaller shops have followed suit. Agencies like ChowNow have emerged to help restaurants develop apps for consumers.

In general, a mobile app makes sense for a food delivery business. If your restaurant offers only carryout, you could make an app work, but that would be a bit of a stretch. And dine-in only? You don’t need an app.

For retailers, your business must consider whether customers want to browse what you have. For that matter, is it something that would be fun for them to browse? If you’re selling shoes, sure. If it’s cotton swabs, probably not.

Can App Users Leave Valuable Feedback?

The answer is almost always yes.

Your customers have outgrown paper comment cards, and many won’t even bother to email you with comments or complaints. If you want to hear their opinions, which are invaluable, you need to give them an easy way to communicate with you. Let your customers sound off on your bacon cheeseburgers, or let them recommend ways you can improve your glass block designs.

Businesses with customized apps can solicit feedback directly through their apps. Information can be as detailed as location of the user, and some include the ability of customers to attach photos or audio to their comments.

Will I be able to Bond with Customers?

Establishing a strong relationship with your customers is important. One of the primary purposes of developing an app is to market yourself and to keep your business on the radar of your customers.

You can develop a lasting loyalty with your customers by providing them a simple way to interact with you. You have to show them that as they move away from traditional media, you’ll be there with them. Be on the cutting edge, and don’t let your competition beat you there.

If you have any advice for small businesses seeking to take advantage of mobile phone apps, please feel free to use the comments section below.

This guest post was contributed by Chris Peterson. Chris is a copywriter for Straight North, a leading Chicago web design agency.