Business tips

Responsive website or mobile app: what is best for your business?

In the wake of mobilegeddon, it’s clear that every e-commerce business needs a mobile commerce strategy. We weigh up the pros and cons of mobile apps versus responsive websites.

In April 2015, Google made a significant change to its ranking algorithm in favour of mobile-friendly websites. This change demonstrated just how far mobile commerce (also called m-commerce) has come; consumer spending via mobile is predicted to grow to a whopping US$626 billion by 2018.

“Mobile usage on e-commerce sites has dramatically risen and behaviour patterns have significantly changed over the past year. Previously mobile was a predominantly a research device, now it’s become a purchase device,” says Scott Kilmartin, Director of Strategy at Online Store Guys.

“A year ago, customers engaged in a multi-device purchase process that followed patterns like: see product on a social feed, check it out on desktop, research in on mobile it, then complete the purchase at home on the couch. Now, customers are finding, researching & buying product on the mobile.”

Understanding consumer behaviour on mobile

Smartphones have revolutionised how people behave on their mobile devices. A report by ExactTarget revealed that consumers spend an average 3.3 hours on mobile everyday. This offers e-commerce businesses a valuable touch point to engage with consumers by offering a smooth, fast and intuitive mobile browsing and shopping experience.

Kilmartin says, “We’re seeing customers buying from brands they know completely on their phone, whilst waiting for coffee. This is especially true for brands they have previously purchased from, where they know exact sizing and don’t need to type in billing and shipping details again.”

He adds, “Improving the customer’s user experience (UX) with faster & better design on mobile not surprisingly, decreases hasty departures and cart abandonment from your site and grows sales.”

Mobile app or responsive site?

To cater to the growing preference for m-commerce and to perform well against Google’s new search ranking criteria, the question most business owners are grappling with is whether to go for a responsive website or a mobile app.

Kilmartin offers a rule of thumb, “For a small to medium-sized store, a responsive website that adapts itself to tablet and smartphone is the best and most cost-effective option 95 per cent of the time.”

“When you have a large customer base that is buying regularly from you, then a mobile app maybe the right choice.”

Reasons to choose a mobile app

Pre-purchase experience. Apps are a great choice when you want customers to test or experience a product pre-purchase. For instance, a fashion retail app that shows you what an outfit looks like – the online dressing room experience – can help convert mobile sales.

Speed. Apps can provide a superior mobile buying experience because of their speed and flexibility.

Large consumer base. If you have a large consumer base, especially if they access your website regularly though mobile, then investing in an app should be investigated further.

However, there are two challenges for merchants looking to develop an app; one is getting the customer to download it and secondly to return and use it. Most people have only a few apps on their smart phone that they use regularly. The rest are left unloved.

Reasons to choose a responsive website

Development price. If you are a small to medium-sized e-commerce retailer, it is better to opt for a responsive website because doing an app well is prohibitively expensive. Customers don’t care that you’re a small retailer with a limited budget for a mobile app; their expectations are set by the likes of Zara, which has not only one of the best mobile sites in retail but also one of the best apps.

Multiple platforms. A responsive website adapts to different device sizes and platforms. With an app, you would need to build one for iPhone and another for Android, which can be costly.

But before you make any decision about your mobile commerce strategy, spend time on understanding your customer’s behaviour. You can use Google analytics and tools such as Crazy Egg that monitor how customers use mobile and desktop sites. Most importantly, seek feedback directly from customers and your sales support and customer service teams.

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