Download, Shop, Delete: Apps Are Now a Booming Seasonal Business

More than one third of all online purchases over the holidays will be made with smartphones.

December 18, 2017 5:00 am
Man using his smart phone to shop in Vienna, Austria. (Getty)
Man using his smart phone to shop in Vienna, Austria. (Getty)

When December struck, I commenced my first tradition of the holiday season — downloading the Etsy app onto my phone. Before I requested vacation days or even thought about getting a tree, I entered holiday shopping mode and needed a way to search for gifts conveniently at my fingertips. Who has time for a web browser when Christmas is 24 days away?

The Etsy app’s presence on my homescreen won’t last long, though. After gifts have been exchanged, my seasonal use for the app will be over and I’ll delete it once again. Until next year, Etsy.

With people using smartphones for more and more everyday, it’s no surprise apps across categories see significant boosts in downloads and usage around the holidays. This includes apps directly related to the season and others that just reap the benefits of this magical (or manic) time of year.

While desktop shopping has dropped 15 percent since 2014, the rate of smartphone shopping has doubled from eight to 15 percent. By the end of 2018, it’s estimated one out of every four e-commerce dollars spent in the U.S. will be m-commerce.

Outside this overall boom, customers are buying on their phones at a significantly higher rate around the holidays — an astounding one third of all e-commerce purchases were made on smartphones during the 2015 holiday season.

“The Groupon app is life at Christmas time,” Shannon Roache, 24 from Maine, told RealClearLife.

While she isn’t quite as extreme and doesn’t actually delete the app when the New Year turns, her usage is definitely seasonal.

“I always have it on my phone but only really use it around the holidays. The last two Christmases, I purchased all my gifts from there.”

Steam, an online game store, is another app that attracts non-regulars in droves around the holidays.

It’s a must. Their sales are nuts,” said Courtney Wiggs, 25 from New York, who uses the app only around the holidays to buy gifts for Christmas and her sister’s December birthday.

Iris Xie, an avid gamer, said they only buys games from Steam around the holidays.

“I only use the Steam store to buy the deals because they have holiday sales, otherwise I stay off it or just play the games I already have,” they said.

According to Xie, only making purchases from Steam around the holidays is a popular move.

“It’s a running joke among the gaming community that our backlogs are huge because of it,” they said.

But it’s not just shopping. Apps from the travel sector to pet sitting boom in December as well.

Rover, a dog boarding company, sees a spike in app downloads around the holidays, according to a spokesperson.

The holidays are one of the most popular times for people to sign up on Rover,” she said, adding that while summer is the most popular season overall, the days around the winter holidays are the most popular specific days for bookings.

A PR photo from Rover.

Rover has the seasonal boom advantage of increased interest from two sides — those who need someone to watch their dogs and potential sitters.

“Being a pet sitter on Rover is a great way to earn extra money for the holidays while doing something you love,” the spokesperson said.

“There’s definitely more interest from both sitters and owners around the holidays.”

The seasonality of its app is something Rover has noticed and is attempting to use to its advantage. The company recently sent an email about “How to do the holiday Hustle” to encourage sitters to touch up their profiles and raise their rates to prepare for the holiday rush.

Those who need dog sitters likely do so because of travel, which happens to be another category of apps that booms for the holidays. typically sees a spike in mobile app downloads from December 26 into early January, with a nearly 30 percent increase globally in downloads during this time,” Daniel Craig, VP of Mobile at, told RealClearLife.

In North America specifically, that surge is even larger — the continent sees a 35 percent increase in app downloads around the holidays.  

We know that at this time of year, people are looking to book travel for the New Year, and everyone starts thinking about their vacation plans as they spend time with friends and family, and many are away from their work desktop,” Craig said. “The holiday season is certainly a peak period for app downloads.”

Besides the apps that get traffic year-round despite their holiday booms, there are a ton that are truly seasonal. A quick look at the iOS and Google Play stores reveals a bunch you’d never find in July.

Elf Yourself — the viral video editor that lets users input their faces on dancing elves — is not only in the iOS store with a new update, but has been ranking under 100 in the Top Charts. Based on its placement, users are downloading the app about as often as Shazam, the Starbucks app, and Google docs.

A new app for customizing your own Arctic adventure story, Grandma’s Gift, is being featured in the iOS store’s “New Apps We Love” section. There’s also countless Christmas countdown apps, seasonal photo makers, and holiday spoofs of popular games, such as “Gingerbread Run.”

It seems it really ‘tis the season to download.

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