July 15, 2010, 12:16 PM

Which is more important: a site or an app?

No question: an m-commerce site.

The big news from BigCommerce, which will launch m-commerce sites for its 6,000 clients in the weeks to come, has ignited a debate on the importance of mobile sites versus mobile apps. Click here to read the back-and-forth among your peers below the “Mobile commerce explosion” story. In my opinion, there’s no contest: sites win, hands down—though there most definitely is a place for mobile apps.

There are two factors that make sites the more important m-commerce play. First is mobile behavior. Many more people browse the web from their phones using a mobile web browser than use apps. They access the Internet on their phones just like they do on their PCs. And if they hit your site and it is not optimized for the mobile experience, you risk losing them, big time. And there are just more phones out there today that have mobile web browsers but do not have the ability to download apps.

Which leads to the second factor, the penetration of smartphones, the phones that can run apps. Today about 25% of the mobile phones in use are smartphones. That number is expected to jump dramatically to more than 50% in the next two to three years. So no doubt the importance of apps increases. But keep in mind you have to build a separate app for each brand of smartphone, and each brand of smartphone only covers a specific chunk of the total mobile web users, and that even with the ability to download and use apps many smartphone users still will be shopping via the web using a mobile web browser.

It is critical today for retailers to build mobile-optimized versions of their e-commerce sites because of the rapidly growing number of mobile phone users accessing the Internet via their phones. And those mobile phone users come in all shapes and sizes, all brands and models. And if you want to reach the vast majority of them, create an m-commerce site that can be rendered on most mobile phones. Consumers are already visiting your site on mobile devices. Check your web logs: it will be at least 1%, maybe 2%, and that can translate into a lot of sales if you treat mobile shoppers right. Just as they do with any site, they expect a mobile experience.

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