App or mobile optimised site: Which is right for your mCommerce strategy?

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Everyone in the industry knows eCommerce is growing and it’s growing fast. Retail eCommerce has a projected growth rate of 13% globally between 2013 and 2016. But, if you think 13% in annual growth is a lot, consider that, worldwide, mCommerce is outpacing standard eCommerce three to one. According to PYMNTS, the “average compound annual growth rate for mobile commerce is projected to be 42%” during that same period.

These huge growth numbers don’t tell the full mCommerce picture though. Roped into mobile eCommerce are various kinds of transactions, those via tablets, smartphones, and now even wearables. And then, even between these various mediums, there are different ways to purchase. The two biggest differentiators between purchase methods on mobile are by mobile app and through a mobile optimised website.

There has been a lot of discussion about which is the better choice, but to be clear, there is no one size fits all option for every brand. In some cases, a brand may be better suited for a mobile app, in other cases, it may be better suited for a mobile optimised site—it just depends. If that makes things more confusing, then consider these pros and cons of each, which should help you make the right decision for your brand’s mCommerce strategy.

Why brands should choose apps

People love apps. They’re hot right now—but does that mean they’re the right choice for your brand? Some of the benefits of mobile apps include customisation, deeper engagement, and higher conversion compared to web-based mCommerce. Whereas conversion rates on mobile hit around 1% for smartphone users and 2.59% for tablets, conversion rates on mobile apps are still a bit of a mystery. We do know that for some apps, e.g. games, conversion rates can be as high as 10%.

Gaming is not typically the end goal for most eCommerce brands, but there are studies that indicate that other apps do convert better than on the mobile web. And, conversion in an app isn’t limited to a simple “cash-for-goods” transaction. In a mobile app, brands can derive value from various customer actions, including when customers: share content, create a username, commence a free trial, and more.

On apps, you can gather as much data as you want, without the same limitations you might have on the web. If a user opts in by downloading your app, it’s possible to gather such useful information as location and contact info. Of course you can ask for these things on the web, but it’s not automatic like it is on an app. Also, once a user signs in on the mobile app, the road to a transaction is much simpler than on the web. While on the web, consumers have to sign in, enter their shipping, credit card, and billing information, on an app, it’s easy for consumers to keep this all stored for future use.

The experience is more customisable on an app than it is on the web. Not only can brands create any type of interface that they want, but having a custom interface is most often going to be easier for users on an app than it is on the web. Consider apps like WantList, marketed as the Tinder for shopping. Their “swipe to buy” interface would not be possible on the web, but is easy and fun for users on an app.

Why brands should choose mobile optimised

Mobile app usage is down, while mobile web usage is up. According to SmartInsights, monthly mobile app usage went down from around 30 hours, in Q4 2012 to around 23 hours just a year later in Q4 2013. At those same two intervals, mobile web usage went from around 3 hours 45 minutes to 4+ hours. While that latter change isn’t too significant, the downturn in mobile app usage is reason enough to steer away from apps and focus instead on mobile optimised sites.

A mobile optimised site is also much cheaper than an app. An app can cost thousands, even tens and hundreds of thousands – and if your app is highly complex, a seven figure price tag is not unreasonable. Considering this, it seems almost ridiculous that the cost to build and maintain a mobile optimised site can be as low as two figures or so per month, although, depending on your requirements the cost can get up there in the thousands.

Mobile optimised websites are more accessible than apps. Users don’t have to download anything to make a purchase, and developers don’t need to worry about the Android versus iPhone conundrum when creating a website. Also, search engines drive a lot of traffic and users are more likely to find a link to a website than they are to find an app download link based on their search engine queries. Even though Google has enabled better app views through search, this feature doesn’t account for typical eCommerce driving searches like product titles.

The best choice for you

It’s clear that there are many pros and cons between mobile apps and mobile optimised websites. In an ideal world, your brand would have both. But, the reality of it is that it’s often too costly to maintain a mobile site and a mobile app. For most brands, a mobile optimised site is a better choice, especially those brands that are tight on budget. As a parallel of the regular desktop site, it requires less commitment and resources as an entity in silo compared to an app. If budget isn’t an issue, then brands should supplement their m-commerce offerings with an app.

Doing so should not mean that you neglect your mobile website, just that you give your customers the most options to shop with your brand. So what payment platform do you think is best for your brand?

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