We spend 3 hours and 15 minutes a day on our phones.

Whether your brand is predominantly mobile, or balances both desktop and mobile apps, growing your business with customer referrals means engaging users where they spend the most time.

According to Google, 89% of people are likely to recommend a brand after a positive brand experience on mobile. So how do you leverage this and design a referral program for your app that drives growth?

If you’re looking for inspiration on how to design your mobile referral program, where to place the CTA in your app, or what to include as default share messaging, you’ve come to the right place!

We’ll show you our favorite mobile referral program examples of 2019, why we love them, and what tips you can apply to your own referral program.

In this list:

  1. Rakuten
  2. HelloFresh
  3. HotelTonight
  4. Duolingo
  5. Uber
  6. Neighbors
  7. Airbnb
  8. TaskRabbit
  9. Tile
  10. Rover

1 – Rakuten

Rakuten is one of the most well-known cashback websites. When you make an online purchase through Rakuten, you can receive up to 30% cashback. You simply shop as you normally would on websites like Amazon, Indigo, Nike, and Sephora, and Rakuten mails you a cheque with your cashback balance.

Referral Program Setup: As an existing user of Rakuten, earn $25 for every new friend that you refer. When your friend makes their first purchase (of $25), they get a $5 bonus and you get $25.

What we like about it:

– Rakuten offers a fairly generous reward with the only condition being that the referred user spends $25 within a year of signing up. Given that it’s normal for an online purchase to exceed $25, this can be easily achieved.

– The program is double-sided, which means that both parties benefit, but you could argue that the difference between $25 reward for the current user and $5 for the new user creates an uneven playing field.

However, cashback websites like Rakuten are commonly met with a lot of speculation from new users. Taking this into account, it’s wise for Rakuten to depend heavily on existing customers to advocate on its behalf, encouraging them with a larger reward. Plus, once the new user signs up, they can start receiving a $25 bonus for their own referrals.

– As far as Rakuten’s mobile user experience (UX) goes, the “Refer a Friend” CTA is clearly placed along the bottom of the app screen with a supporting gift box icon, and communicated in three easy steps with plenty of share mediums to choose from.

What would make it even better: 

Rakuten’s Refer a Friend page on their desktop website offers a “Your Referral Activity” table to show you what friends have signed up with your code. This would be a valuable addition to the mobile app given the amount of shopping that is done on mobile.

2 – HelloFresh

HelloFresh is a leading meal-kit subscription service. As a customer of HelloFresh, you choose meals for the week, and receive a box of pre-portioned ingredients and corresponding recipe cards to help you cook your weekday dinners.

Referral Program Setup: Give $40, Get $25 – Treat your friends to $40 off their first delivery, and get $25 when they order.

What we like about it:

– HelloFresh does a good job of drawing attention to their static CTA for “Free Food” along the app’s menu bar, which is likely to pique the curiosity of every user. The offer is positioned in a way that makes the user feel good about sending a “treat” to their friend.

– HelloFresh knows that as a subscription service, new customers are risk-averse into locking in a recurring financial commitment. This explains the heavier discount for the new customer, albeit still a double-sided offer.

– During our research, we noticed that HelloFresh swapped out their basic referral deal with a limited time offer of “Give $50, Give $50”, before switching back to the screen pictured above.

There is little public documentation on what triggers these referral offer changes, but we can’t argue against supercharging referral offers with expiry conditions to promote urgency. In addition, limited offers can train users to keep checking your referral screen so they don’t miss the next great deal.

3 – HotelTonight

Hotel Tonight is a hotel booking app and website aimed at helping last-minute travelers score discounted room rates.

Referral Program Setup: Give $30, Get $30 – Give friends $30 off with your code, and you’ll receive $30 off your next booking when your friend reserves a room at a qualifying rate.

What we like about it:

– The “Give $30 Get $30” is a clear and simple proposition that benefits everyone involved. Plus, the default messaging to friends includes the minimum amount that must be spent on a booking to qualify for the reward, to counter any confusion or miscommunication.

– When you start to refer friends, the app’s Invite screen will display your invites accepted, friends who booked, and your resulting balance, so everything you need to know is in one place. When you’re made aware of credit you’ve earned, you’re more likely to make a purchase in order to use it.

4 – Duolingo


Duolingo is an online language-learning platform with both a desktop and mobile app. The brand is known for using gamification to encourage users to keep making progress with their chosen languages.

The app can be used for free, but offers a paid subscription which grants access to an ad-free experience, offline lesson downloads, and more features.

Referral Program Setup: Get one week free of Duolingo Plus for every friend you refer to the app.

What we like about it:

– Giving users a free week of Duolingo Plus with each referral is a great way to expose them to the paid offerings. It makes sense that the brand hopes users will realize the benefits of the paid tier, and either keep up referrals to use it for free, or start paying for it themselves in order to not lose access.

– Duolingo’s in-app referral screen and buttons perfectly match the look and feel of rest of the app, making it a seamless experience.

– Even though it’s different than the typical “Give $10, Get $10”, Duolingo does a good job of clearly explaining the program with the concise “Invite friends. Get free Plus” tagline.

What would make it even better: 

We should note that this is one of the only examples in our list that isn’t double-sided. The new user being referred does not receive an incentive. It works in this case since Duolingo can be used entirely for free, though the offer could be more enticing by giving new users virtual coins to use, which is of no real cost to the brand.

5 – Uber


Uber is the world’s leading ride-sharing app. As a passenger, you can use Uber (in most cities) to request a ride for a cheaper price than a taxi. Anyone can apply to be an Uber driver and make an income.

Referral Program Setup: When a friend signs up for Uber with your code, they get $2 off their first 3 rides, and you get $5 towards your next ride.

What we like about it:

– Since using Uber means being on your phone, the brand is aware of how prominent their CTA must be on mobile. A clear and enticing “Free Rides” link in the main menu bar prompts users to access their invite code with one tap.

– As one of the pioneers of mobile referral programs, Uber understands how to create a clean and simple layout that will engage users. While the app uses a “How Invites Work” screen to offer more program details, the offer to “Get $5 off your next ride” is enough to convince a user to share their code.

6 – Neighbors

Image source

Neighbors is a mobile app by Ring – a company that sells home security equipment such as video doorbells and security cameras. Their mission to reduce crime in neighborhoods is supported by the Neighbors app that provides real-time crime and safety alerts, and lets people report suspicious activity.

Referral Program Setup: Invite a neighbor or friend to join, and you’ll both get $10 towards security equipment on Ring.com.

What we like about it:

– Where the Neighbors app shines is by promoting its referral program in a way that supports a larger mission of building safe communities. Instead of just encouraging users to “get free money” by referring a friend, they’re encouraged to get more neighbors on board to leverage the network effect and build a stronger force against crime.

– Its referral offer of “Give $10, Get $10” can be clearly communicated on a single line, leaving room for imagery that inspires the mission of the app.

7 – Airbnb

Airbnb is an online marketplace for arranging and offering accommodation. Anyone can apply to list their real estate and become an Airbnb host, while travelers can find lodging at cheaper prices than the average hotel, or just a unique place to stay.

Referral Program Setup: As of December 2019, the Airbnb mobile app features referral and credit options to refer both travelers and hosts:

  • Refer a traveler: Friends who sign up for Airbnb with your link will get $34 off their first home booking. Once they book, you’ll receive up to $29 in travel credit.
  • Refer a host: When your friend signs up to be a host and completes a reservation, you get $100.

What we like about it:

– Airbnb exists as a result of the sharing economy, and relies on recruiting a network of hosts and travelers. Without both parties involved, the ecosystem cannot function, so the two separate options to refer both travelers and hosts make sense for a powerful referral program.

– Airbnb’s “suggested referrals” (right-most screenshot) is a feature that not many apps utilize, but may help give the extra nudge to anyone on the fence. However, this feature will be limited to apps who have been granted connections to your social network accounts like Facebook.

What would make it even better: 

While the reward of $100 for referring a host is clear and concise, the reward amounts for referring travelers are slightly less memorable (ie. $34, $47, $13). We assume that this is not random and likely the result of careful calculations to maximize ROI, but the numbers are difficult to remember and can’t easily be communicated without referencing the app. Dollar values like $30 and $35, and $10 may work better in this case.

8 – TaskRabbit

TaskRabbit is an online and mobile marketplace that connects you with freelance laborers to help with everyday tasks like moving, cleaning, and handyman work.

Referral Program Setup: Help Your Friends, Get $10 – Send your friend a $10 credit and get $10 when they complete their first task.

What we like about it:

– Instead of using a CTA of “Give $10, Get $10” like most programs, TaskRabbit’s program is purposefully advertised as “Help Your Friends, Get $10”. Rather than just an exchange of money, it’s positioned as a way to make you feel like you can help friends ease stress and tackle their to-do lists – all while being rewarded!

– The “Help Your Friends, Get $10” CTA is dispersed nicely throughout the app, and your unique link can be shared quickly with one tap.

– TaskRabbit’s default share messaging effectively communicates the value of using the app and why the new user should check it out.

9 – Tile

Tile is a tiny Bluetooth-enabled tracker that helps you locate your items quickly through the Tile companion app. Tiles are commonly used to keep track of wallets, purses, and other valuable items.

Referral Program Setup: Get 25 points for every friend who buys a Tile, and receive a free Tile once you have 50 points.

What we like about it:

– Tile begins the referral proposition by asking a question: “Know someone who loses everything?” We can all probably answer ‘yes’, which sparks our interest in what we can do to help our friend solve a common problem.

– The brand gamifies its referral program by letting you rack up points to earn a free Tile. The referral screen clearly displays your progress towards a reward, motivating you to reach your goal and refer more friends.

– Instead of a traditional “Give $, Get $” model, the app lets you explicitly “Get Free Tiles”. With every new Tile, you become more invested in the brand and its value proposition, ideally fuelling more referrals.

10 – Rover

Rover is an app connecting pet sitters and pet owners. Easily find a sitter to take care of your pet while you’re away, or make extra money looking after other animals.

Referral Program Setup: Give $20, Get $20 – Invite a friend to Rover and they’ll get $20 towards their first booking. Once they book, you receive a $20 credit.

What we like about it:

– Rover’s referral program fits cleanly into its app and is emphasized by pops of color amidst a mainly grey and white color palette.

– The referral program CTA takes precedence on the “more options” menu tab, giving it the in-app promotion it deserves.

– The “Everybody wins” tagline on the referral screen promotes the reciprocity of the program, making everyone feel comfortable initiating/accepting offers.

What would make it even better: 

As Rover already utilizes imagery of people and pets on its referral screen, this would be a great place to feature top referrers and their pets. For example, if a customer refers 10 new users, enter them into a draw to have a photo of them and their pet featured on the referral screen for a week.

 

Best Practices for Mobile Referral Programs

What can we learn from these examples? Here are our top tips for creating a mobile referral program that engages customers and fuels your growth.

Offer double-sided incentives

Referral programs work best when there is motivation for both existing and new customers. There must be a willingness to start the referral, and a willingness to accept it. If either of these motivators are missing, your chance of a successful conversion is lowered.

Offering a reward to both parties ensures that the existing customer doesn’t feel like a salesperson for your brand, and that the new user feels comfortable accepting the offer knowing that everyone benefits.

Offer valuable rewards (that also benefit your brand)

Many of our examples above offer in-app credit, features, or merchandise as rewards. This is an excellent way to promote further product usage, and you can be confident you’re offering something that your customers will be able to use instead of guessing their preferences.

By linking rewards to revenue-generating activities (ie. booking a hotel, reserving a dog sitter, requesting a ride), you can lower the financial impact that rewards have on your bottom line.

For more guidance on choosing the best rewards, check out this article.

Create an easy-to-understand catchphrase

The best referral programs aren’t complicated. This is why offers like “Give $10, Get $10” are so widely used. Terms and conditions aside, they clearly communicate the incentive in participating.

If your referral program’s general rules can’t be displayed clearly on a single screen in your app, it’s probably too complicated. Assume that users will not scroll down, so make sure all important information can be displayed “above the fold”.

Using a separate link to “Learn More” or “How it works” is also standard practice to explain any other program details.

Make it easy to find

In addition to creating a general promotional strategy for your referral program, make sure it’s easy to find once users open your app. The best apps dedicate a space on their static menu bar as a quick link to the referral screen, plus extra links in “account” and “settings” pages to maximize exposure.

As a creative example, Airbnb’s app development team took advantage of the 3D touch feature on modern iPhones, which lets users access options simply by pressing harder on the screen. The brand integrated its referral options right into this menu for quick access:

Make it easy to refer

While consumers spend more time on their phones, this doesn’t mean their patience has increased. Make it as easy as possible for users to share their referral links and codes with friends by offering multiple ways to share (ie. WhatsApp, Facebook, Email, SMS).

Asking users to copy, paste, and open up a new app to share their link can be enough of a bottleneck for them to abandon the referral altogether. Notice how in all of the apps we explored above, unique referral codes and links are already generated so the user doesn’t have to go through extra hurdles.

Have it well-integrated into your app

As you can see from all of the examples above, the branding of the referral screen perfectly matches the rest of the app in terms of color, font, and general tone.

As a user, if you click “Invite a Friend” and are redirected to a website that looks nothing like the brand’s native app, you’ll not only be confused, but become skeptical if you can trust the new page you’re on.

Display customer referral progress

If customers can see who they have referred and how much they have earned as a result, they will be more likely to continue this behavior when they understand the impact. If referrals have been started but not converted, give customers an option to send a reminder to friends.

Make your default messaging exciting and enticing

For various share mediums, equip users with default messaging that they can send to friends with their link/code. This is your opportunity to explain the value of the offer in your own words, while users can still customize it.

Here’s an example from TaskRabbit that effectively communicates what the app has to offer: “I’m using TaskRabbit to tackle my to-do list! Make life a little easier with help for everyday home projects. Get $10 off your first task.” This is much more enticing than “Hey, use my code to get $10 when you sign up for Task Rabbit”

Think about the new user

While it’s important to create a smooth referral experience for your existing customers, consider how you will simplify the process of a new user entering their friend’s referral code or link. They should be able to create an account quickly, with their discounts or credit automatically applied, and be directed to the best area of the app for them to get engaged.

Who didn’t make the list and why?

We scoured the world of apps to pick out the best mobile referral programs. Why didn’t some make the list?

Technical Difficulties

Technical difficulties were more common than we expected. Even big names like Evernote and Dropbox offered a troubling user experience when the “Invite a Friend” button simply didn’t work, or the area to input friends’ email addresses remained blank after typing.

How to solve it: Leverage a dedicated referral software provider who can help integrate a smooth experience into your mobile app.

Lack of Visibility

If no one knows your referral program exists, they won’t use it. Burying the link to your referral program under multiple menu layers is a surefire way to lower engagement.

Even after locating the referral program area, it was often confusing on how to share your link, what to share, and what would happen if you did share it.

How to solve it: Like many of the apps on our list above, put your referral program front and center so that users are reminded to invite every time they open your app.

Poor Incentives

Some referral programs favored either only the referring user or only the referred user. The former can make your users feel like salespeople, and the latter can reduce motivation to refer. There are certainly use cases for single-sided rewards, such as when a service is completely free like Duolingo.

How to solve it: Level out the playing field by using double-sided incentives. By leveraging the rule of reciprocity, you’re more likely to drive action from both the referrer and referred user.

 

Final Thoughts

Getting more referrals means engaging customers where they spend the most time – on their phones. But an expectation for high-speed and efficiency require your mobile app’s referral program to grab a user’s attention and provide a seamless experience.

What are some mobile referral programs that you would add to the list? Are there any great examples that we missed? Tweet us and let us know!

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