July 15, 2010, 12:16 PM
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Which is more important: a site or an app?

Bill Siwicki

Managing Editor, Mobile Commerce

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.

Comments | 4 Responses

  • I think that Bill makes many good points above in his article. Mobile Web and Rich Apps are both important but a lot depends on the specific retailer's needs and their customer demographic. Retailers should at a minimum consider enabling the mobile Web as it reaches the most customers who carry a mobile device (iPhone, iTouch, Blackberry, Android etc). Mobile Web can be enabled through a "Tactical" approach by hardcoding the content from the desktop ecommerce site to mobile but I believe that this approach limits the ability for retailers to create a great customer experience that is unique to Mobile. I have seen many cases where this approach has failed by not creating value for the customer or the retailer. I believe that retailers should enable Mobile in a "Strategic" way by taking a platform approach that provides a direct data feed to their mcommerce partner. The mcommerce partner can then take this direct data feed and work with the retailer to provide a unique mobile Web experience, improving personalization and creating offers that are more fitting to the mobile user and then drive substantial incremental revenue. Retailers who take this approach can then add mobile apps to this same platform to create an experience that is optimized for the specific features of top selling devices including the iPhone/iTouch, Blackberry and Android mobile devices. Some of the benefits of doing this include: - Customer carries retail brand with them on their device - App is designed specifically for features of each mobile device - A better user experience (designed specific to the device) vs. mobile Web (designed to the lowest common denominator to service all devices) - Faster navigation and less drop-off due to content and billing information stored on device - More captive audience as you have their complete attention within the app - Higher average order values and frequency of interaction - Distribution flexibility through app updates - A richer platform to develop software features that take advantage of today’s and future device features including In-store check-in, Loyalty programs, Push notifications (local offers), Bar code scanning and store locator via GPS Just some things for retailers to think about to maximize their mobile channel as well as have an impact across all channels.

  • Mitch from BigCommerce here (@mitchellharper on Twitter). Just wanted to share my opinion on the app vs browser experience on mobile devices. From what I've seen, mobile commerce lends itself quite well to impulse buying. One personal example: I was sitting at LAX waiting to board my flight to Austin, TX where our headquarters is. I wanted to buy some shoes for an upcoming trip to Cancun off Zappos (http://www.zappos.com/product/7652766/color/64633) so I jumped on Zappos.com on my iPhone which automatically took me to their mobile-optimized store. Within 2 minutes I'd found the shoes, had been upsold on a similar pair of shoes, paid for them and entered our Austin office address for shipping. The shoes arrived the next morning in Austin. Now considering this was an impulse buy, had Zappos not had a mobile store I'm not sure I would've even thought to download an app from the appstore just to purchase. In my mind (and I know in many consumers minds - based on research and my discussions) the buying process for ecommerce happens lends itself well to a web browser, and mobile safari on my iPhone is just as good as Safari on the desktop. I definitely agree that for huge brands like BestBuy and Amazon, an application could work - because it could push alerts to your phone for new products, news, etc, but for the majority of our merchants (who are doing less than $5M revenue), they told us a mobile-optimized browsing experience is what they want - they don't have the technical know-how or budget to customize an iPhone application, submit it to Apple, wade through the approval process, keep the application up to date, etc - they want something that "just works" out of the box. No configuration or deployment necessary so that's what we're doing with BigCommerce 6. Here's a quick video demo of our mobile commerce offering coming in a few weeks: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKnopFxpK-8 Plus, a mobile-optimized version of an ecommerce store is cross platform. When designed with webkit it will work on the iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Palm Pre, all Android devices and the soon-to-be-released new Blackberry with a webkit browser. Compare that to an iPhone application which will only work on Apple devices and you are limiting your reach while at the same time requiring potential customers to put in the effort to download your application from the app store. Again, just my opinion but I live, breath and love e-commerce and mobile commerce so I thought I would share my views. Cheers, Mitchell Harper BigCommerce co-founder @mitchellharper on Twitter mitch[AT]bigcommerce[DOT]com

  • I agree with most of Bill's points and the comments. As a former P&G marketer I always start with the consumer. Who is your consumer? Walmart is primarily families looking for value. Will they have iPhones/Androids or even mobile web access? Mitch's point What about Best Buy's consumer and Target's? The second thing is contextual. What is your consumer doing when they are thinking about your brand? With over 5,000 branded messages a day bombarding us, it's difficult to stay top-of-mind. Mitch's example of downtime at the airport is great. If you're a retailer and running ads in the airport, have a mobile call-to-action with a discount code if you're an m-tailer. If you're a Home Depot, help with solutions such as 1-2-3 video tutorials on how to build your dog a doghouse of kids a treehouse. Lastly, but not last in importance, is what objectives does your mobile program meet? Driving sales is always nice but honestly it will be awhile before mcommerce will generate enough revenue to justify this. How about bringing people into your loyalty program? Radio ads would be a great way to provide a special mobile club call-to-action. No matter where you are, you can text in and get a special offer or a chance to win in a sweepstakes - and this can drive loyalty program sign ups. There are as many possibilities as there are ideas. I'm excited to see what retailers do and how their shoppers will respond. - Hugh Jedwill, Mobile Anthem, @mobilebranding, hugh(at)mobileanthem(dot)com

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