Mobile App Versus Mobile Website eCommerce Online

Mobile devices have taken over the world!

Comscore reports that mobile phone penetration in the United States has reached 80% of the adult population. But we don’t really need statistics to prove our point. Just look around. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, people all around you are using their smartphones right now. Mobile phone usage is so strong, in fact, that some people suffer from nomophobia.

As an eCommerce retailer or marketer, mobile phones present an incredible opportunity for your business. Shopify has reported that over 50% of traffic that eCommerce sites receive comes from mobile devices. Today, businesses are spending a lot of marketing dollars and resources trying to develop the perfect approach for mobile. But what’s the right strategy for mobile?

A responsive site, a mobile app, or both?

How do you know whether your business needs a strong web presence, a strong mobile presence, or both? This decision is very critical to the business.

The use of mobile phones and tablets to browse the Internet has grown at an astronomical pace, but much of the web is still poorly optimized for mobile phones and tablets. Tablets and mobile devices are often constrained by display size and require a different approach to how content is laid out on the screen.

Users seamlessly shift from their mobile devices to laptops to browse and shop for products. If your website isn’t ready for mobile devices, you will most likely lose these customers. If over 50% of your website visitors are using a mobile device to browse your site, can you really afford to give them a non-optimized user experience?

A survey by Google reports that over 65% of smartphone users in the United States prefer to use mobile websites over mobile apps for shopping. Far more users are likely to utilize a mobile website than are likely to download an app. Major brands have significantly improved their conversion rates by building responsive websites. Purchase patterns also indicate most customers prefer using the website for high-ticket purchases through mobile, while in-app purchases are limited to small ticket items. Better customer experience than non-responsive sites, greater likelihood of purchase than mobile apps, higher conversions and ticket size — all make a case for responsive websites. If you need some inspiration, here is a list of stunning responsive sites from every category.

And if you need more incentive to go responsive, here it is! The search giant – Google – has already changed its search ranking strategy to reward sites that are ready for mobile and penalize ones that are not.

Why do you need a mobile app?

With the need for a responsive site clearly established, let’s take a look at the strategy for mobile apps. Lots of brands are jumping on the app bandwagon without a clear strategy just to avoid being left behind. Unfortunately, such approaches have given birth to apps that are hardly used and certainly don’t give the returns that businesses hoped for. According to Vision Mobile, over 55% of mobile apps earn less than $500/month.

If responsive websites are becoming more normalized, the question becomes — what can an app offer that can’t be achieved by your responsive site? An overlap of benefits between your site and app can leave customers confused and result in one or both being underutilized. According to Gartner, 25% of app users use the app only once. In fact, according to Mobilewalla founder Anindya Datta, speaking to USA Today, an estimated 80-90% of apps are eventually deleted from users’ phones.

Not all statistics, however, are discouraging. A new study from Compuware, finds that a majority of smartphone users (85%) still prefer mobile apps to mobile websites. Users believe apps to be more convenient (55%), faster (48%), and easier to browse (40%) than mobile websites.

There is clearly a market for mobile apps. However, a clear understanding of the benefits – along with a thoughtful app strategy – is needed before starting development.

What can an app do that a mobile site can’t?

By embracing native functionality, apps can offer a much better experience for the user and, consequently, enhance your business. Here’s a handful of ways that applications could be better suited for your users and your marketing strategy:

Push Notifications: A beautiful way for an app to send information to your customer’s device (via an alert, or a pop up message) even when the app isn’t in use. Push notifications can be used for pop ups about new products, promotions, upcoming events, exclusive discounts or specials, incentivizing customers to check the app often, and even more, driving conversions in the process! Popular app GrubHub uses push notifications to update you at every stage of food ordering – from when the restaurant receives the order to when chefs begin to cook to when your order is on its way.

iBeacons: iBeacons have changed the shopping experience forever. iBeacons are at the cutting edge of technology, alerting you when you pass a specific location. For example, with a beacon in a shop, the retailer’s app (assuming your customers have installed it) can display a special offer or alert when a customer approaches or leaves an area with a specific product.

Reach out to a wide ‘App Store’ audience: More and more smartphone users are constantly browsing the app stores looking for entertainment or utility apps. Being present in the mobile app marketplace opens your brand to a whole new set of potential customers and revenue. Gartner predicts that by 2017, mobile apps will have been downloaded 268 billion times and will have generated cumulative revenues of $77 billion.

Embrace the native functionality or hardware of the phone: You can use your phone’s cameras, accelerometers, GPS, address book, etc. to add functionality not possible with a mobile website.

  • Scanner: Apps can use the scanner feature of the phone in several creative ways. Imagine speeding up the re-order process by using it as a bar-code scanner like one of our fashion retailer clients. Or allowing customers to build a digital legacy by allowing them to scan documents and pictures to share with family like this tech-savvy insurance company.
  • Camera: Two words – augmented reality. With an app that has augmented reality capabilities, it’s possible to capture live images/videos through your camera and modify it to include things that aren’t really there. A great example is IKEA’s catalog app, which uses augmented reality to help you picture how a piece of furniture will look in your home.
  • GPS: Casual dating apps like Tinder are changing lives using the GPS functionality of your phone. Tinder uses your Facebook profile and location information to find you the perfect match.

There are plenty of other native features like telephone integration, gestures, compass, etc. that you can find incorporated in established as well as upcoming apps.

Offline Use: Websites will always require an Internet connection, whereas an app can store data locally on the phone, and you can continue interacting with them even when no connections are available. Because apps work offline, they have a way to store synchronized data (history search, contacts, uploaded files, shopping cart, etc.) on the phone so that it’s immediately available when the app starts.

UX/UI Experience: The mobile app UX/UI field explodes with impressive new features all the time. This year, apps came up with some of the best features, including slide in/slide off page transitions, thumb-focused interaction, integrating swipe feature, pop up screens, etc. Here are a some trends to inspire you!

Secrets of a successful mobile app strategy

When it comes to apps, the biggest point of failure could be focusing too much on selling and too little on enhancing the user’s lifestyle. Most smartphone users (58% according to Flurry Analytics) use mobile apps for games, social media, or entertainment. Most customers seem to prefer mobile websites for shopping (remember the survey by Google indicating 65% of smartphone users prefer shopping on a mobile website instead of a mobile app). What customers do expect from a retailer’s mobile app is easy access to product and store information, along with personalized offers and perks based on their interests (according to a report from Compuware).

We believe a successful app strategy starts with an understanding of your customers and their journeys and figuring out how an app could enhance their experience.

In order to build a successful app strategy, in addition to business goals, one or more of the 3 E’s have to be achieved through your app:

  • Educate: Provide contextual informative content that will equip the user with insights to address his or her concerns or challenges. REI – the retailer famous for its outdoor clothing and gear – also has an award winning mobile app. The app not only provides an excellent digital storefront, but also keeps its users up-to-date on weather conditions and shares information about ski resorts. Another example is Mothercare – the Mothercare app provides a lot of educational content for parents-to-be, along with the ability to make a purchase.
  • Entertain: Provide interactive, personalized, content that provides amusement or enjoyment to users. Meatpack’s app, Hijack, is a great example of gamifying the purchase experience. Meatpack, a shoe retailer in Guatemala known for its edgy style, built an app that uses GPS to detect its customers and send discount messages to its app users. The discount starts at 99% and drops by 1% every second, encouraging users to rush to the store.
  • Enhance: Deliver utility that reduces friction and cost or simplifies routine tasks. A great example of utility delivered through an app is the Starbucks app. The Starbucks app is the most used digital payment app in the United States. Not only does it make payments easy (a tap instead of card swipe), but it also provides an ingenious way of managing and using the Starbucks rewards program.

THE INDIA STORY: How some retailers are changing the face of mobile commerce

eCommerce in India is a fairly young industry. However, in recent years, eCommerce has seen unprecedented growth to become a $16 billion industry. India ranks 5th in the 2015 Global Retail Development Index in the eCommerce sector. Growth of the eCommerce sector, intermingled with the rising Internet and mobile phone penetration has led to the emergence of mainstream mobile commerce.  A report from the Internet and Mobile Association of India predicts that sales through Mobile Apps in India will reach up to $10-20 billion by 2017-2020.

This trend is driven as much by retailers as it is by customers and technology. A great example is online fashion retailer Myntra. Myntra made a radical decision to shut down their website in favor of being available to customers solely via their mobile app. The retailer aggressively promotes the use of its app by offering heavy discounts and special offers only for customers purchasing through the app – strongly influencing a customer shift towards the mobile app. The decision was driven by multiple factors:

  • Greater flexibility to deliver a personalized experience to its customers: With access to a rich set of information about its users, an app can be a powerful way to market Myntra’s products.
  • Ability to make use of push notifications to drive purchases through the app: With push notifications, there is a greater chance of your marketing messages being seen and acted upon.
  • Increased volume of smartphone traffic in India: The retailer was able to attract first time online users and even divert a lot of existing users from the website over to mobile because of the convenience of using the app anytime, anywhere.
  • Ease of maintenance: Maintaining two different versions – a mobile app and a website – would mean additional costs for Myntra. Moving to just an app significantly reduces cost. Further, it brings greater focus in building an innovative mobile app strategy.

While the jury is still out on the success of Myntra’s strategy, it is an interesting trend to watch.

In conclusion:

Mobile apps can be a powerful branding and loyalty-building tool. Your mobile app strategy can be highly impactful if it’s thoughtfully built around your customer’s needs and lifestyle. Build a mobile app that can fulfill a need in your customer’s lifestyle – enhance the way they search for, access, purchase or take delivery of your product or service – and you will earn their loyalty.

With all the noise out there – banners, billboards, flashing signs, newspaper ads, flyers, coupons, websites, Facebook ads, email marketing, and more – brands slowly lose the impact they can have on customers. It’s time to go back to making a true and sincere connection with your customers, making them loyal lovers of your product or service. Having the right mobile app creates a means of staying close to your customers – just a touch away at all times.

Contact Echidna

Echidna Team
Echidna Team
Echidna is an eCommerce agency based in Minneapolis. We drive eCommerce transformation, create inspired customer experiences, enable eCommerce technologies, and help retailers attract and convert customers. Feel free to email us with any questions related to eCommerce design, technology, or marketing.