While apps would seem to be winning the “apps vs mobile websites” contest at present, Group FMG’s UK Managing Director, Mark Inskip, believes brands and developers shouldn’t be looking at which is better, but instead at how they can work together.
The branded apps vs mobile website debate has been raging for some time now, probably since the first Apple apps took to our mobile screens more than six years ago. However, after an initial surge towards apps, brands – and indeed developers – settled for mobile websites as they strove to deliver consistent multichannel experiences for consumers.
One of the key reasons behind this seeming backtrack was that it could be hard to find apps and that people’s mobile devices would become cluttered with different apps for different brands that they shopped with. Updating a vast array of apps with new content was also seen as costly and challenging.
With the mobile web everything was searchable and accessible all in the same place so brands weren’t compromising their visibility. On top of this, while app technology has come a long way in the past few years, in the early days things like in-app transactions would often refer users back to a website to compete their purchase. This meant that if a brand’s website wasn’t optimised for mobile platforms they were letting their customers down on the experience front at the final hurdle.
However, apps are fighting back. According to research by Berg Insight, which supplies market data to the telecoms sector, application downloads worldwide doubled during 2012 and reached 60.1 billion, up from 29.5 billion in 2011. The company also predicts that this rapid level of growth will continue, and that annual downloads will reach 108 billion by 2017. Revenues are on the up too, with the company’s report claiming the figure stood at €6.4bn in 2012, from direct sales and in-app advertising. This figure is expected to be as high as €14.1bn by 2017.
Furthermore, from a pure ecommerce perspective, a recent study by Adobe in the US – The 2013 Digital Publishing Report: Retail Apps & Buying Habits – makes interesting reading for mobile commerce specialists. As apps stride ahead of mobile sites in terms of functionality and experience, much of the problem with mobile websites it would appear is down to the current infrastructure.
While many agencies and brands will be pinning their hopes on 4G to really bring the mobile web to life, Adobe’s research seems to indicate that this hope is misplaced. Although the arrival of 4G and LTE in the US was set to give the mobile web a welcome boost, the technology giant’s study indicates that even here browsing on mobiles is still a long way from what we’re used to with the rest of our online experiences. Indeed the report cites that smartphone shoppers highlight the slow speed of browsers and the ease of navigation on apps as reasons for their preference for using apps and digital catalogues.
With the increased opportunities for brand interaction and engagement that apps offer, it’s hardly surprising that the report found that 38% of tablet shoppers and 42% of smartphone shoppers responded that app interactions strengthened their connection to the brand. The research also found that of those people who don’t currently shop on mobile devices, one in four intends to use mobile apps to shop in 2013.
Adobe’s findings are also backed up by a global survey from Compuware, which also claims consumers do indeed prefer apps. According to its study, consumers see mobile apps as adding value through things such as streamlining calendars and grocery lists and offering entertainment while online. Indeed, consumers now associate apps with banking, paying bills, shopping, booking hotels and travel, as well as with staying productive and connected with both home and office tasks.
The survey asked more than 3,500 global respondents about the benefits of using a mobile app against a mobile optimised website. The results were pretty unanimous, with 85% of respondents preferring mobile apps over mobile websites, primarily because apps are more convenient, faster and easier to navigate – reflecting what the Adobe research found. The survey found that apps, despite a few issues with crashing and freezing, offered easy access to product and store information, help planning and navigating visits and the ability to communicate in real-time; beyond anything mobile websites could offer.
The survey found that consumers were also drawn to the way apps supplied personalised content, as well as offers and perks based on their interests, while providing the ability to share offers, news and product recommendations virally on their social networks.
APP OR M-WEB?
These are all compelling reasons for treading the app path as opposed to creating mobile websites, but it shouldn’t be as clear-cut as a question of either/or. Instead brands should be looking at how they can use apps and mobile websites together in their multichannel commerce strategy.
Both apps and mobile websites have their own unique advantages – apps can add a more personal and catalogue-like experience as well as being easier to personalise, plus technology today allows them to seamlessly integrate the ability to complete transactions from directly within the app. But mobile websites, despite issues over speed, still offer brands the ability to be found and searched for easily via the web. It’s also important to point out that the issues of speed are negated when the mobile device is connected to a wireless network, and the majority of online shopping/browsing is still done at home on these devices. Yes, we have our favourite stores and brands, but sometimes we want to shop around. Apps are more of a walled garden for consumers, whereas the mobile web is a free and open space. By looking at one versus the other brands are losing out.
Much of this “one versus the other” mentality is because, up until now, it has been expensive to create bespoke branded apps – and creating cheap, static apps just doesn’t cut it with today’s interactivity hungry consumer. With times in retail being tighter than ever, brands can be forgiven for looking to cut corners on their expenditure. But again technological developments mean that there is now a middle ground, which allows brands to get the best out of both an app and a mobile website.
There are some simple rules that brands need to follow when it comes to creating apps: don’t replicate or redesign but repurpose your content; add interactivity; and don’t try to re-invent the wheel. Just copying your existing photography, imagery and design into an app will potentially lead to a cumbersome and unrewarding experience, with differing screen sizes.
A better option is to take this material and adapt it to fit on your chosen platform, without completely overhauling your design. In effect this means resizing images and then relaying text to fit the relevant screen size.
Once you’ve done this, it’s a relatively straightforward process to add interactivity through hot spotting so that users can explore products, see different variations, share them over email and social media and ultimately to purchase them.
Adding ecommerce functionality to your “digital catalogue” is really the icing on the cake and the thing that adds the most value to your customers. However, what you don’t want to be faced with is creating a wonderful ecommerce enabled digital catalogue that you then have to spend time and energy getting to work with what you have already in place.
Employing this technique means you get eighty per cent of the functionality of a bespoke app with just twenty per cent of the effort. Importantly, it means that brands can also invest cash into creating a mobile friendly website and ensuring that they don’t miss out. Yes consumers may prefer the experience of apps – for now – but discounting the mobile web is foolhardy to the extreme.