Are alternative app stores worth it?

App Store Optimization is, for most people, synonymous with Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. After all, they contribute to 90% of the total available apps in the market. But they’re not the only ones out there. These alternative app stores seem to lurk in the shadows but each of them has its slew of users. With the looming DMA and Open Markets Acts that aim to open the app markets to third-party stores,  their time to shine may be just around the corner. Are they worth looking into? We’re investigating the topic.

Which existing alternative app stores are there?

According to Catappult, there are over 400 alternative app stores (they even have an index introducing some of them). However, since you can only install alternative app stores on Android phones, these alternative app stores are only available on the Android OS (which is used by 74% of mobile users in the world). 

Some are bigger than others, and they have their fair share of users. Adjust shared that the projected downloads from alternative app stores for 2021 were 112 billion. Even though both the App Store and the Play Store have millions of available apps on their platforms, some alternative app stores have quite a few too. For example, the Amazon AppStore has 460,000 apps and Tencent Appstore had 43,840 available apps available in early 2021. 

Alternative app stores may see fewer users than the Play Store and the App Store but they’re still alive and kicking and have their own share of the audience.

The Huawei App Gallery has seen its number of monthly active users steadily grow over the past few years and reached 530 million monthly active users in 2021.

Number of monthly active users of Huawei AppGallery in millions / source: Statista

The Tencent Appstore, the most popular third-party app store for Android devices in China, has over 32,430 mobile apps available for download and 200 million active users on average.

Number of mobile apps and app publishers on the Tencent Appstore as of March 5, 2022 / source: Statista

All in all, alternative app stores can be classified into different categories:

  • Device-specific app stores: like the Samsung Galaxy Store or the Huawei App Gallery
  • Country or culture-specific stores: AppToko is for Indonesians, Cafe Bazaar for a Persian speaking audience
  • Content-specific stores: Aurora Store is a tracking free app store, QuooApp is an app store dedicated to comics and games, TapTap is a game only app store, WhiteApp is an app store aimed at developers and allowing them to purchase apps or rights on some apps

Access other markets

Some markets are tougher to get into than others. Look at China, it’s expected to reach 1.1 billion smartphone users in 2022, it’s a huge market that’s unfortunately pretty closed to outsiders and 78% of these mobile users use an Android OS. But entering the Chinese market is challenging, especially for western app stores. The top app store in the country is currently the Tencent App Store followed by the Huawei App Store.

To penetrate some markets you will need to set up shop in some alternative app stores notably in countries like Russia, Korea, and India. This is an advantage you can only gain through alternative app stores although it will demand work to both localize and culturalize all the assets and metadata of an app for these app stores. 

Face less competition

There are fewer apps in alternative app stores than in both the Play Store and the App Store. Which means that you’d face less competition there. It’s both an extra distribution channel, and one where it’ll be easier to achieve success. 

Consumer spending is growing on third-party Android stores, their overall revenue is closing the gap with the Play Store.

Because there are fewer apps, it’ll take less effort to improve your ranking and you’ll be more efficient on competitive keywords. It’s a clear opportunity to expand your audience through organic downloads. 

Connect with a specific audience

Some app stores are tailored for specific audiences (whether it’s around languages or content). Some of them are focused on mobile gaming (even specific genres of mobile games), others on free apps. Finding an alternative app store that is a direct line to your core audience can only be a boost. 

It’s an efficient way to encounter exclusively people who would be interested in your app or game. There’s no better way to boost your conversion rate. 

Of course, they may have a smaller community, it still makes for relevant marketing by targeting only a specific demographic.

Here are some examples of niche communities you can find on alternative app stores:

  • Persian-speaking communities with Cafe Bazaar
  • Developers in WhiteApp
  • US gamers in Carolina West Wireless
  • Business owners and companies on Cisco AppHQ

It’s a good marketing move

Joining new app stores will help you take more space on the internet. It’s another way to do some SEO and advertise your app or mobile game by boosting its general online presence. Not only will it spread your presence on different platforms, but it will also give you more marketing tools and opportunities. It’s a nice way to push your brand awareness and grow your presence in search engines in an organic way. 

It’ll also put you in touch with users you’d have trouble reaching otherwise. This connection with them will help you improve and expand your marketing strategy. Getting to know your user base a bit better is always useful (and helps increase your performance in these markets). 

These app stores also offer new acquisition campaign opportunities (through featuring, ads inside of those, etc.) which can be a nice addition to any marketing campaign.

It all comes with a cost

Of course, every set of advantages comes with some downsides. Joining alternative app stores will demand time and effort. As with the major app stores, reusing creatives made for another app store is never the way to go. To be efficient, you’d need to work on a new set of creative and metadata and this takes energy. 

You’d also need to understand how each alternative app store works with considerably less literature on them, how do you promote your app on them, is there a featuring option, how do users behave on these platforms, etc. 

It’s also tougher to compile analytics for varied platforms, and see if your strategy and your ASO work in those. There are also extra fees for some of them, to create a developer account or publish an app. 

Is it really worth the effort?

It depends on your target audience, for specific countries it may be worth it (like investing in the Huawei Gallery or the Tencent AppStore in China), it’s also a great way to promote your app and increase your overall visibility. You can also use these alternative stores as a testing area, trying out new things and new marketing strategies to see if it works without alienating a bigger audience. 

Alternative stores are a tool of organic growth that can help you drive more downloads. They may surprise you with the result. Karina Kononovic, in charge of ASO for Surfshark (a VPN app), told us that using alternative app stores worked wonders for them, especially in a category such as security apps where it’s harder to get featured on bigger app stores. 

For a foray into alternative app stores to be effective, you need to look into which app stores are worth it (the biggest ones like Amazon AppStore or Tencent AppStore). Identify the markets and audiences you’re interested in (it’ll help you choose relevant app stores), and consider the promotion features available on the platform.

With the DMA being close to coming into law in the European Union and the US working on the Open Markets Acts, the iPhone is about to be forced to open to alternative app stores soon in Europe and the US, they may gain ground quickly from then on and it may be worth it to be prepared, just in case.

Overall, alternative stores are a great competitive tool that will help boost your app’s presence and growth as well as reach new audiences but still demand a certain amount of work and commitment to be effective. 

Have you tried ASO in alternative app stores? If so, which one? Tell us in the comments!

Marine Nozerand

Marine Nozerand

Hi there, I’m Marine (she/her), I’m a Content Manager at Apptamin. Apptamin is a creative agency specialized in app videos (video ads, app store videos, etc.).

Marine Nozerand

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