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Which is Better for Retailers? Mobile Apps vs Mobile Websites

Read Time: 5 minutes

Retailers are faced with a difficult decision: do you choose a mobile app, a mobile website, or both? The mobile website vs. mobile app issue is a chief concern amongst decision-makers at retail businesses both large and small, from the CEO of a multi-national retail chain to the owner of a smaller venture with just a handful of regional locations.

The reality is that mobile apps and mobile websites have a number of major differences, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. However, the numbers clearly convey the importance of establishing a prominent mobile presence. A retail survey revealed that more than half of all consumers use retail apps at some point during the shopping process. What’s more, retail apps account for the largest-growing segment of the mobile industry, with a jump of nearly 175 percent during a 12-month stretch. It’s predicted that by 2020, retail apps will account for 45 percent of all e-commerce transactions, totaling a whopping $284 billion worldwide.

But the question remains: Which is better? Do you invest in a retail app or a mobile e-commerce website?

Mobile Apps Have More Sophisticated Features and Device Integration

Apps can be developed to include features and functionalities that are difficult, impractical, or impossible to include on a website. Push notifications and alerts are one of the most effective techniques for engaging and connecting with users—and it’s an approach that’s simply not possible with a web-based platform.

What’s more, a mobile app can tap into the mobile device’s core applications and hardware, including its geolocation and GPS capabilities, microphone, camera, position sensors, fingerprint scanner, contacts, and a range of other features. This allows for a richer UX and a far greater level of engagement.

Retail Mobile Apps Allow for Loyalty Program Integration & Engagement

Retail apps often include loyalty or reward program integration, with the app taking the place of a store rewards card. Plus, your developer can program the app so it taps into the device’s geolocation feature to serve up special offers when customers approach or enter a store. This adds an entirely new element of engagement which is far beyond what’s possible with a mobile site.

Your retail app can also be configured to accept layaway payments and credit card payments, in addition to offering customized virtual shopping experiences using beacon technology. Meanwhile, restaurants and bars can use beacons to allow patrons to pay their tab or bill remotely—without the need to call upon a busy server or bartender.

Mobile Apps Can Function on Little or No Data Bandwidth

Mobile websites rely entirely upon an internet connection in order to function, whereas mobile apps don’t necessarily require an uninterrupted data stream. For example, mobile developers stow a number of images, graphics, and other app components on the user’s device, so you don’t need an internet connection to utilize many UI elements. They will also load much faster since your device doesn’t need to “talk” to a far-off server. Instead, the device simply turns to its memory banks.

Compared to some other app types, retail mobile apps do tend to be more reliant upon internet access. This is because they include capabilities that require virtual database access, such as virtual shopping and loyalty program-related functions. But features like creating a shopping list can certainly be utilized without any sort of data connection. This means data usage will be lower than if you were to utilize a mobile website—a major benefit for data-conscious users. Plus, this means a better user experience for anyone with a weak or spotty connection.

Apps Feature More Comprehensive Analytics Capabilities

Mobile app developers can integrate some extremely sophisticated analytics and data collection features, enabling retailers to gain unparalleled insight about their customers. This data can be leveraged to maximize engagement, promote greater loyalty and ultimately drive sales inside brick and mortar stores and beyond.

Mobile websites can also generate some very useful data, but the data is not as in-depth as what you can gather with a mobile app.

Are There Benefits of Having a Mobile Website?

There are certainly many benefits of developing and maintaining a mobile e-commerce site. In fact, there are a few areas where mobile websites win out over apps.

Users don’t need to install anything to access your mobile platform. Customers can simply visit and shop. And while many retailers use this visit as an opportunity to prompt users to install their mobile app, the reality is that only a fraction will take action and hit the “install” button.

So, a mobile-friendly website provides you with an opportunity to connect with those who aren’t quite ready to install. This makes your e-commerce site a very effective way to connect with the fairly large segment of consumers who fall short of the “loyal customer” criteria.

Mobile websites require fewer updates, making maintenance more affordable and less time-consuming. Apps, on the other hand, must be updated to ensure they continue to function properly after operating system updates.

A single version of your mobile site will render on a broad variety of different devices. With mobile apps, you must tailor the application to a specific platform (resulting in a native app that works only on iOS or only on Android) or you’re faced with the challenge of building a more complex, costly hybrid app that works on multiple operating systems.

Mobile apps don’t have a search engine footprint. Google’s bots can’t crawl the content in a mobile app, making these platforms essentially invisible to searchers. An SEO-optimized website will market itself to some degree, offering a major competitive edge in terms of visibility. Meanwhile, you could literally reveal the secrets to eternal life, limitless wealth, and incredible happiness on your app, but nobody would ever know about it unless you were to invest in marketing or cross-market via your website.

That being said, Google does offer mobile analytics specifically for apps, so you’ll still be able to enjoy the benefits of their analytics platform.

Which is Better for Retailers? Mobile Apps vs Mobile Websites

Mobile websites and apps each have unique strengths and weaknesses. But by using a mobile site in conjunction with an e-commerce app, your retail shop can enjoy the best of both worlds by engaging users in a unique and effective way. This strategy allows you to maximize and optimize your presence amongst smartphone and tablet users. Serving clients in Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and beyond, the development team at 7T specializes in a wide variety of mobile solutions, from app testing services to creative UI development, mobile analytics, agile app development solutions and beyond. Contact us today to discuss your mobile development needs.


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Lacey Williams-McGhee

Lacey Williams is a marketing professional and Harvard graduate student living in the great state of Texas. When she's not working at 7T's headquarters, she can be found on the next flight to the Bahamas, hanging out with her husband and fluffy golden retriever, or studying! Lacey earned a B.A. in journalism from Baylor University. Sic 'em!


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