October 18, 2010, 3:16 PM

Where to begin in m-commerce: a site or an app?

Bill Siwicki

Managing Editor, Mobile Commerce

Lead Photo

I was surprised last week at the Mobile Commerce Forum by a presentation from Bryant Shea, vice president of the innovation group, which covers content management and mobile commerce, at consulting firm Isobar.

Conventional wisdom says when launching a mobile commerce program a retailer should begin with an m-commerce site, not an app, because a site offers greater reach than an app. Anyone with a mobile web browser can access a mobile-optimized site, whereas apps can only be accessed by users of the platforms for which those apps were designed. And the smartphone platform market is rather fragmented.

But Shea bucked conventional wisdom.

“If you’re going to be focused on any area, it’s apps for the iPhone and Android,” Shea said, saying the vast majority of mobile web traffic comes from mobile devices using Apple Inc.’s iOS4 operating system and Google Inc.’s Android operating system. “Why do you want to focus on an app instead of a mobile site? Because the experience is better.”

I wholeheartedly agree that the experience is better on an app. I think most smartphone owners would agree, as well. And I think apps have a very important role to play.

However, mobile web browsing is soaring, and when a smartphone user types in a URL, the expectation is that there will be a site optimized for their device. And the number of people who use their phones as their primary method for accessing the Internet is greatly increasing. This means they’ll be hitting a retailer’s site more often on their smartphone.

As a result of these factors, I think it’s paramount to launch an m-commerce site before a mobile app. Retailers have to be ready for the onslaught of mobile web users. Once they have a mobile site in place, then retailers can create the super-rich experience of an app. (Though I should add that with the new mark-up language HTML5, retailers can create rich m-commerce site experiences that approach those in mobile apps.)

And don’t forget the problem of discoverability. Consumers have to find your app before they can download it and use it. They need to know it exists. So you have to promote it well. You don’t have to do that with an m-commerce site—people already know your URL.

So I say site, Shea says app. What do you say?

Comments | 3 Responses

  • I enjoyed reading this post... As a developer of internet imaging software I see tremendous opportunity for the mobile market. This new? advertising/marketing medium will only grow as smart phone market grows. Having a mobile site is good but I believe having an app is better. As the article clearly states promotion is key. Promoting software is not an easy task. Our approach at spinimagedv is to move with the flow. Creating 360 degree internet imaging applications that run on your average Mac or PC that outputs touch controlled 360 degree images for both Apple and Android phones is our future and we strongly believe the next step for both internet imaging and mobile imaging. These images offer proven ROI. They increase user interaction and allow more eye time. They reduce product returns. They increase impulse buys. I read a quote from Machiavelli. " Luck is where planning meets opportunity " Etailers understanding the opportunity and the focus to plan on the future will sure to be on top. I am thankful to have the opportunity and luck to post on this well written article. Good job.

  • Bill, I'm glad you had a chance to see my presentation. You bring up a lot of good points and although I believe a focus on applications is important I also believe you can't neglect your mobile website. As you point out people will go to a company URL and companies need to have a site that is functional on mobile devices (even if that site has limited functionality and suggests user download a native applications). Choosing where to focus your efforts certainly involves a lot of variables and there is no one solution that will work for every situation. I mentioned in the presentation that m-commerce initiatives can be grouped into four categories: Transactional, Promotional, Brand as Services and In-Store enhancement. Depending on where you decide to focus, your customers demographics, the goals for mobile, budget, etc you might choose and application or a website. I do believe native application currently offer the best user experience in addition to offering a much broader feature set to developers, however, the real keys to mobile success are: Speed and Flexibility. The market is changing quickly, you need an infrastructure and content model that can adapt and short duration initiatives (that map to your longer term strategy) if you want to see solid results. Thanks again for attending the session and keeping the conversation alive online. Bryant

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