The Mobile Revolution: eCommerce Apps vs. Websites for Retail

6.10.2015, Written by Annie Wang
Mobile Revolution
Creative Commons, Attribution Flickr User melenita2012

Mobile commerce sales are expected to rise to $32 billion next year which will not only mark a massive increase from the $10 billion that was generated in 2012, but also account for over 7% of all eCommerce sales. As the pervasiveness of tablets and smartphones accelerates worldwide, the number of people engaging in mobile purchases is poised to increase each year. A resulting debate has started regarding whether retailers should develop an optimized eCommerce website for their retail store or stick with a downloadable app.

The decision of which is the better option for a retail business depends on a number of factors like the product offering(s), target consumer audience, required investment and competition. Responsive web design is essential to any eCommerce retailer that is serious about the pursuit of success, however a catalog that keeps people interested (or a strong brand) could mean that an app is the more effective channel for driving revenue.

So how can you figure out which method is best for your retail business and will gain more revenue and drive customer loyalty? Let’s take a look.


Customers Like eCommerce Apps

Perhaps the most significant advantage that mobile apps offer to a retailer is the ability to communicate and personally engage with the customer. One of the things a retailer worries about is how to unobtrusively remind a customer that they exist. This reminder can prompt the customer towards a purchase without providing the opportunity for them to unsubscribe from a newsletter or avoid that company altogether. Mobile apps allow merchants to send customers instant push notifications regarding discounts, sales, new products and relevant news – all while maintaining and improving customer engagement.

Additionally, research suggests that consumers truly enjoy using mobile apps: studies show that 89% of consumer media activity occurs on mobile apps. Not only can the right app help attract loyal customers, but it can also reward them with a more convenient and interesting experience.


Mobile Apps Will Continue to Grow

As technology continues to evolve, so too will the growth of eCommerce apps. One of the primary tactics that retailers utilize is figuring out a way to make it easier for a customer to purchase goods or services by simply tapping a button on their phone. Innovative technology like “Apple Pay” makes it possible for consumers to complete an in-store/in-app purchase by simply holding their finger to their phone for immediate identification and approval. This prevents the need for the customer to spend time waiting in line or having to walk through additional steps to fill out detailed information or personal data.

Mobile apps also boost the in-store experience by streamlining multiple channels (omnichannel retailing) into a seamless buying journey for the consumer. Integrating a digital catalog into a retailer’s physical store can improve the customer experience and increase sales significantly by generating a simple way for the consumer to find and learn more about appealing products. For example, using an app-based QR or barcode scanner while in-store can allow the customer to discover more details about a product or see whether that item is available at a different store.


The Importance of Responsive Web Design

Before the decision can be made of whether to use a mobile app or a responsive web design, the retailer must first establish their purpose; a company that is looking to sell products online through an eCommerce platform will need a responsive web design since it will directly impact their revenue. In recent years, the incorporation of mobile devices into everyday life has altered the way both businesses and consumers approach website design and the user experience.

Before tablets and smartphones, web designers needed to ensure that visitors were presented with a positive desktop experience – now, users need to be able to enjoy a retailer’s website on any number of media channels, some of which can differ in functionality from a desktop computer to a smartphone to a tablet. A responsive eCommerce website allows consumers to easily find what they are looking for and can directly contribute to purchases made from the comfort of their own home.

While it may seem surprising in today’s app-centric world, research suggests that customers prefer using the mobile web as a place to shop when compared to eCommerce apps. This means that having a high-performing, responsive site is just as important as investing in an app. This data also proposes that:

  • 51% of consumers prefer shopping on the mobile web vs. using a smartphone app
  • 58% of mobile retail revenue is predicted to come from the Web this year
  • 82% of smartphone shoppers use their mobile browser to search for products in-store
  • 62% of shoppers say they visit a mobile website directly vs. 21% who say they use a retailer’s app in-store
  • The majority of retailers under-utilize their opportunity to sell through a responsive eCommerce website


Which Option Should You Choose?

Though the debate will likely continue, the best course of action for any retailer may be to have both. While a mobile app and a mobile-optimized eCommerce site may seem similar in function on a basic level, they operate in different areas of the sales process. Mobile websites will best serve consumer searches for products, while a mobile app will derive value in the ability to inspire customers into becoming return clients. For retailers that are looking to maximize their potential revenue and develop loyal clientele, obtaining a responsive eCommerce website and a mobile app may be the best way to gain both.