Mobile apps vs. mobile websites


You probably know by now that a mobile-optimised website is top priority for retailers in 2013. But what about mobile apps? If your website is already optimised for phones and tablets, why bother with an app as well?

It’s not for every company. But if you want to maximise sales and engage your customers, you need to seriously think about opting for an app as well as a mobile website.

Why is an app better than a mobile website? From the customer’s point of view…

  • Faster to use. There’s no irritating wait for pages and images to slowly load. And people do expect super fast reactions on their mobile – it’s fine to wait for a webpage to load on your laptop, but when you touch something with your finger you want it to respond instantly, just like in the real world.
  • More engaging. Many fashion retail brands are putting added functionality into their apps, like Topshop’s ‘Drawing Board’, where customers can create personalised collages to share with friends.
  • A way to stay up to date. We were surprised when we realised that about 90% of downloaders of our apps accept push notifications. But if someone is a fan of your brand, they want to know about your new products, sales, and special offers.

Why is an app better than a mobile website? From the brand’s perspective.

  • The ability to send push notifications is a huge deal for brands, a whole new marketing channel that goes straight to your customer, wherever they are. As long as you always have something useful to say (‘new stock!’ or ‘free shipping!’ or ‘the sale’s here!’), then customers will respond.
  • A constant reminder of your brand on your customer’s phone. One customer we interviewed had a ‘virtual high-street’ folder on her phone, with all her fashion apps inside. When she had a spare moment, she’d browse through clothes and window-shop. Brands without an app were missing out.
  • An app works more smoothly with your customer’s phone From a developer’s point of view, an app has much better access to other capabilities on your customer’s phone than a mobile website does. In practical terms, this means it’s easier to link up with things like Facebook, map capabilities, and the phone camera, meaning you can create clever in-app features like social photo galleries and store finders.
  • A better looking experience An app fills up the whole screen, with no real estate needed for browser functionalities. This can be an issue for fashion companies – if you have a beautifully clean design with high-res garment photos, an app will showcase your products more nicely, on phones and especially on tablets.

Okay, you might be thinking by now, ‘If an app’s so good, why do we need a mobile website too?’ A mobile-optimised website has it’s own advantages that can’t always be replicated in an app.

Advantages of a mobile website compared to an app

  • Accessible by any device – No matter what you’re browsing on, a good mobile-optimised website will be readable and shoppable.
  • SEO friendly – A mobile website can use SEO tactics to boost your ratings in Google, whereas an app is not indexed by search engines. So if your customers are searching on their phones for a specific item like ‘green skater dress’, it’s a result from your mobile website that will pop up.
  • Better for casual users – Your dedicated customers will download your app, but for those just browsing, a mobile website requires less commitment.

The mobile space can be confusing for retailers, with change happening incredibly fast. But the best advice we can give you is to go where your customers are. Check your stats and work out how your average customer is shopping online, and you’ll be able to make an informed decision on how to reach them.

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