According to a recent report by BI Intelligence, retailers are missing a massive opportunity on mobile web. Given the change in consumer behaviour, mobile web vs mobile app has increasingly become a topic of discussion in the past few years.

The importance of mobile as the new medium by which consumers access the internet isn’t a new idea. For most observers, the transition to mobile has been accelerating for the last 5 years. Nevertheless, aside from developing mobile apps, generally managed as an external side project, retailers have yet to fully incorporate mobile into their sales and marketing strategy.


With the holidays coming up, this is especially important. According to Dynatrace, 56% of smartphone or tablet owners plan to use handheld devices to search for and buy gifts for the holiday season. Up until now however, the ‘mobile strategy’ for typical eCommerce retailers is two-fold: ensure that their website is optimized for mobile web browsing, and in some cases, develop a mobile app.

What does the ‘mobile era’ actually look like?

There’s been a lot of speculation about what the mobile era will actually look like. The two primary mobile app platforms - Google Play and App Store - have exploded in popularity, and according to a Gartner report, app market revenue is estimated to hit $77 billion by 2017.

A fairly widespread assumption is that the upward trajectory of mobile app downloads will continue. Not only will more people adopt mobile, all users will download more apps.


But does this mean that the same trajectory will hold true for mobile retail apps?

Not necessarily.

A Google research report says that 8 in 10 smartphone shoppers use mobile in-store to help with shopping. In addition, 65% of in-store shoppers prefer mobile sites over apps.

Even if you don’t operate brick and mortar operations, understanding the way that consumers behave in-store can also have implications for pure eCommerce businesses.

In fact, the majority of consumers are now interacting with retail businesses through mobile web browsers rather than apps. As the mobile web browsing experience improves, consumers no longer see the need to download specialized apps to interact with the businesses that they care about. So how do we optimize that experience to ensure that we provide the right information at the right time?

Research by Internet Retailer shows that 58% of mobile retail dollars going to the top 500 mobile retailers will come from the mobile web this year, with in-app purchases accounting for the rest. Despite the importance of mobile web to shoppers, only 60% of the top 100 global retailers have a dedicated mobile website - with 32% still showing mobile users a desktop optimized version of their website on mobile devices.

For instance, 53% of smartphone shoppers will use their phones to make price comparisons when they’re in a physical store.

This has drastic implications for the way that you position your brand and the way that you optimize your website. To truly succeed in mobile eCommerce, it’s essential that you attract the right customers and provide relevant information at the right time.

Why consumers browse the way that they do

According to comScore, there are three primary drivers for top digital media properties that are web-dominant as opposed to app-dominant.

  • Reliance on search and social referral for traffic
  • Emphasis on responsively designed site architecture
  • Philosophical reasons for de-emphasizing the web experience

First, it’s important to decide your customer acquisition strategy and ensure that your mobile strategy is not only aligned with it, but one of primary drivers for moving your business forward. Where are your customers coming from? Social media? Direct search? Or some other avenue?

Moving forward with mobile - what can you do to better serve potential customers?

So, how to take advantage of the opportunities available on mobile for interacting with your customers.

Since the iOS 8 launch of interactive notifications and a similar function for Android devices, action buttons now appear within push messages, giving consumers more range in how they interact with retail apps.

In addition, allowing consumers to set preferences ensures that the messages you push are relevant to the individual user’s needs.

One of the biggest obstacles to creating a good mobile app strategy is simply that retailers are thinking about mobile apps as an amalgamation of a shopping cart and a billboard. The logic pays homage to traditional advertising. Have a clearly displayed “billboard” and hope that consumers are attracted to it and buy your stuff.

Simple, right?

tablet user

Except that for the most part, this approach has yielded disappointing results, mostly because for many retailers, the metrics aren’t in place to measure mobile engagement and look at the types of interactions that actually matter. Although 86% of shoppers preferred to research products using laptops and mobile devices, 45% still prefer to buy retail products in store.

Experiment with different ways of pushing mobile engagement. Look at the relationship between volume sent, Click-Through-Rate (CTR) and other metrics that could help you form a coherent picture of how your customers are interacting with your business on mobile.

Also, ensure that you're interacting with customers at the right time. Yes, it's always good to drive engagement and ideally, you want as many people as possible to interact with you at all points of the purchasing cycle - from awareness, to research, to price comparison, to the final purchase. That's why it's important to shape your mobile strategy to lead your customers down this purchasing funnel - and try and guide them to make that final purchase with you.

Conclusions to the mobile app vs mobile web debate

Ultimately, it's up to you to decide which avenue you'd like to focus on. Depending on the sort of customer you're hoping to attract, the reasons for developing some channels over others will be different. Exercise your discretion - but regardless of which channel you choose, acknowledge that the mobile revolution is very much here - and that your business should adapt to changing conditions.

See also:

Why adding a pop up store to your e-Commerce business will benefit you greatly

How to rock a trade show

5 essential mobile apps to help you manage your business & sell better