mCommerce: Mobile Web vs Mobile Apps

So, you are now the proud owner of an eCommerce website, it is performing and driving sales, but do you know how that site will translate for a potential mCommerce shopper?

In a study of 818 small-to-medium sized companies, 50% have never checked the appearance or functionality of their website for Smartphone users! Even more shocking is the fact that a poorly designed site which does not promote conversion via User Experience (UX) and Design will potentially be missing out on an ever-increasing market segment. Taking this past Black Friday as an example, Android OS device traffic increased from 1.43% in 2010 to 4.92% and Apple iOS traffic from 3.85% to 18.46%; almost one quarter of all traffic combined! With numbers like these it is evident that your mCommerce strategy should play a large role in your overall eCommerce planning for 2013 if it has not already!

In defining that strategy, one of the first steps to take will be to decide if you will reach your audience via a mobile app or a mobile website. In doing a quick Google search, there are arguments both in favour of and against each, however the following breakdown will focus on those factors relating storefront mCommerce (as opposed to social, informational, games, etc).

Providing a Mobile Website

What is it?
A mobile website is very similar to a desktop site in that it is a series of HTML pages that are offered to consumers via the Internet using a browser on their mobile device (Safari, Chrome, etc). Although these sites can have a specific domain, they are typically accessed via the ‘standard’ URL and either the user is redirected to the m. subdomain or the site will seamlessly present the mobile site via device detection (will save from the boring technical details on how to do this, however there are a few different options depending on your specific configuration).

As you can see in the example below, the site is skinned to provide the most relevant information to the user in a manner that will not require to zoom on the device to see any labels:

Benefits of Mobile Web
1. Cross Device Compatibility Develop a single site that will work across mobile devices
2. Time to MarketNo approval process for a mobile site, unlike app stores
3. Time and Cost Development will typically be less than an app
4. Engagement 73% of mobile users engage with sites to shop as opposed to apps
5.  Discoverable Most users will type in a web address that they are used to using
6. SEO Can still appear in product specific searches for mobile SEO

Potential Drawbacks
1. Device Integration – in most cases, only the native map and phone will be available
2. Testing – there will be the requirement for cross-device testing

Providing a Mobile App

What is it?
In contrast, a mobile app will be an OS specific application that the end user is to install directly on their device via an application market (App Store [iOS], Google Play [Android], App World [BlackBerry]). These apps will be accessed via an icon on the device’s dashboard as opposed to an Internet browser, and will be developed specifically for the OS of the application market(s) that they will be listed on.

In the following screen shot, you can see that the look and feel matches better to the OS that the app has been designed for (iOS) as opposed to a generic mobile skin:

Benefits of Mobile Apps
1. Device Integration – camera, contacts, calendar, phone, etc provides ‘all in one’ feeling
2. Device Specific Look and Feel – maintain seamless UX
3. Prestige – ability to build on already existing loyalty
4. Focused experience – less opportunity to go off page
5. Offline availability – product catalog is a dynamic pull, offline features can be built into the app
6. Speed – offline content is fast to access by user with improvement in dynamic as well

Potential Drawbacks
1. Cost – even for a single OS, cost to develop an app will be increased, compared to a website
2. Update Releases – any update/bug fix will require republishing the app and end user download
3. Install and Forget – some users may download the app and then never use it again
4. Limited Sharing – sharing specific info to users not using the app’s OS can be challenging

In Summary

Decisions, decisions! Ideally, both a mobile optimized website and OS specific app suite would be a part of any mComm strategy, however cost, time and ongoing management can be preventative factors in taking this approach. What I would recommend is to begin with a mobile optimized site as this will save from the process of publishing, specialized development and will expand your reach to provide an enhanced experience across all devices to start.

Once that is up and running, you can begin to focus your attention on the OS specific app creation (iOS would be in the lead, but check your analytics to see the device breakdown from your current traffic). When developing both the site and apps, look for opportunities to integrate with native device functionality to further enrich the user experience both online and in-store to promote conversion. Keep in mind that both will offer analytics integration so make sure that is rolled into your current package to derive the most useful information about how your users interact between all of your eCommerce offerings!