Mobile Website or Mobile App: What Should I Build?

Mobile commerce will reach approximately $142 billion in 2016 according to Mobile Commerce Daily. Promoting business through mobile platforms has become an essential part of many IT and marketing departments worldwide. Mobile phones allow businesses the opportunity to share information about their store, such as hours and nearest location, as well as offer exclusive deals through branded apps as well as third-party apps like Yelp & GroupOn.

The necessity of a mobile presence is evident. When developing for the mobile platform, one has the choice between building a mobile website or a mobile app as the avenue of preference. Obviously developing for both platforms is ideal, but it’s important to realize the strengths of each platform when developing a mobile strategy. Many businesses don’t take into account the importance of the mobile web when it comes to driving revenue.

If you read Cashing Out the Smartphone, you know that while 85% of time spent on mobile devices occurs in apps, 80% of that time is spent on the user’s top 3 apps, a web browser often being one of them. 82% of smartphone users reference their phones when deciding what to buy. When it comes to eCommerce, mobile websites drive twice as much traffic as mobile apps.

Thus, while mobile apps are more expansive, mobile websites are in many ways more important to retailers. Utilizing both in tandem and playing to each platform’s strengths will maximize mobile presence to bring in revenue. Here are the top factors to weigh when deciding between building a mobile website or a mobile app:

DISCOVERABILITY

Due to the omniscience of Google, mobile websites are much more discoverable than mobile apps. Although it is good to have a presence in the app stores, it’s often more important to be discoverable on the web since the web is where the majority of customers go to find information. Mobile websites share a common publication format, making them almost universally accessible across smart devices. As we detailed in our article on Responsive Design & SEO, optimizing a website for mobile is not only a vital SEO practice, it also lowers the price of keywords in Google Adwords.

IMMEDIACY

The immediacy of mobile websites make them an asset to companies looking to disperse information about their products. Mobile websites can be found from any smart device with a single Google search. Mobile websites are quick, easy to find, and direct to the point. Mobile apps, on the other hand, require the user to go to the app store, search, download the app, then often sign up for an account. The distance between initial engagement and action/conversion depletes the chances of a mobile app acquiring new customers without a clever strategy, while mobile websites are more likely to pique new customer interests.

Many retailers have turned to mobile apps to manage loyalty points and increase customer retention through exclusive discounts.

Here are some popular third-party apps for increasing customer loyalty:

Shopkick: Shopkick offers customers rewards the moment they walk into a store. It is the most-used US shopping app connecting shoppers to retailers.

Flok: Flok is a customer loyalty and engagement platform which uses automated messaging, digital punch cards, and direct customer rewards to power lasting and rewarding relationships between merchants and customers.

Belly: Belly is a digital loyalty rewards program which serves over 12,000 businesses and has more than 6 million members across the US.

COMPLEXITY

While mobile websites are great for dispersing information, apps typically can do much more. Native apps are designed specifically for a device and OS, thus ensures maximum performance. With mobile commerce on the rise, apps can help make the check-out process seamless. The process of approval required by the app stores assures users that any given mobile apps will be safe and secure. The complexity of mobile apps also makes maintenance more expensive.

Mobile websites are easier and less-expensive to maintain since they have a common code across platforms. Developers can release and update without worrying about being approved by the app marketplace. Mobile websites can only utilize a limited scope of a given mobile device’s features, although mobile browsers are in the process of getting more powerful and enabling more power over the device.

COST

Mobile websites are less expensive to develop and maintain since they use common code across devices. While cross-platform app development tools ensure a cheaper way to make an app usable across Android, iOS, and other operating systems and devices, they also can dilute the functionality.

In our opinion, it’s often better to start with a mobile website which disperses necessary information and calls attention to the business before creating a mobile app to supplement with additional functionality.

Any given business or organization has unique needs which must be attended to when establishing a mobile presence. Experienced web and app developers should ask the questions which get to the root of what is needed and can design creative solutions which maximize functionality for any given platform in accordance with the project budget. Be it through a mobile website or a mobile app, the mobile platform allows for any number of possibilities which can make any business more efficient, attractive, and profitable.