Mobile App or Mobile Site?
Slowly but surely UK retailers are moving towards mobile commerce strategies. Today Retail Consultant asks which in the better strategy: mobile site or mobile app?
Posted by Killian McAleese, 13th June 2011
Mcommerce advances, and consumers are tugging at the leashes of the retail industry. While the retail businesses often lag stubbornly behind demand when it comes to supporting their customers' smartphone-enabled shopping aspirations, more and more UK store chains are nevertheless entering the fray and committing to a mobile site or an app.
But the emergent picture is still mixed when it comes to retailers' preferences and priorities regarding mobile platforms and choosing between an app and a mobile site. Here are some of the pros and cons of each from our point of view.
The Mobile Site
The advantages of the mobile site to retailers are fairly obvious. The beauty of this option is that it is very easy to produce. Take a look, for example at the website guardian.co.uk. This is a complex, busy and multi-faceted site with tens of thousands of readers and easily hundreds of new pages on a busy day.
Simple and Accessible
To observe the relative simplicity with which such a complex site can be formatted into a mobile-friendly structure, just go to the very top left of the screen and click 'Mobile site'. It's clear from this example that a mobile site is a relatively simple exercise of reorganising content so as to be optimally viewed on a small screen of portrait shape.
The second great advantage of a mobile site is its accessibility. As well as saving time and money cutting out mobile platforms, it's important to remember that customers, too, can acces a mobile site without the app marketplace. All a mobile site requires in terms of accessibility from the customer's point of view is a simple keyword search for the business or entering the url.
The Mobile App
'App' is one of the buzzwords of the current age, and with such market exposure and widespread recognition, one would expect retailers to go down this route with gusto. But that isn't necessarily the case, and for a number of reasons.
The first big challenge when it comes to an app is development. If it's to be available on all mobile platforms then it must be written to some extent separately for each one, and this means extra development costs. If these costs are to be avoided then there's no choice but to cut vast swathes of customers out of the picture, by opting to omit a platform.
The challenges don't stop there. There's a huge difference between convincing a customer to look at a mobile site and convincing them to look at an app. While the mobile site is viewed with a simple click or single search, the app has two mountains to climb before being viewed.
The first is to attain visibility in the app downloading marketplace, whether that's Android, iTunes or Ovi store. There are millions of apps out there, so this task isn't necessarily straightforward.
The second big challenge is convincing the consumer to download the app. This is not at all as easy as gaining a website hit, as it involves more time commitment from the customer without their being able to preview the app in the same way as one might a site.
But despite all these drawbacks, there is one thing that gives apps a distinct advantage, and that is its power of stickiness - its ability to hold the attention of the customer over a sustained period of time.
While the number of app downloads might well be a fraction of the number of times a mobile site is viewed, once downloaded an app remains on a phone's menu until the customer consciously decides to delete it.
This is a huge advantage over a mobile site. Indeed, when comparing effectiveness, it is arguable that the download rate of an app is comparable to the conversion rate of a website, since downloading an app probably involves as much commitment to subscribing to a newsletter.
What's more, the technical challenges in developing an app also amount to an opportunity. Where mobile sites can be somewhat restrictive in terms of what can be achieved, apps can, and usually do, have additional functionality and interactivity such as in-store GPS guides and virtual shopping. Such opportunities, when exploited cleverly, can be extremely affective in optimising sales.
Both App and Mobile Site?
Was a 'yes' answer inevitable from the start? Perhaps. The simplicity of the mobile site can't be ignored. But while a significant issue is of course the purpose of a retailer's policy in the first place - what the m-commerce strategy is in the longer term and what its aims are - it's difficult to deny some advantages of an app anyway.
Most retailers now know that m-commerce is a significant and inevitable force in the retail industry. Whether businesses currently have a clear picture of where they're going to be in the coming years with their mobile strategies, we would all do well to start getting customers' attention and commitment with an app in the meantime.
Your customers are in the app marketplaces right now. So, Retail Consultant asks, shouldn't you be too?
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