January 11, 2011, 2:56 PM

You’ve got an app for that? Maybe you should have an m-commerce site first.

If consumers favor the mobile web, why do they use apps just as much?    

 I’m bombarded with so much mobile industry research and statistics on a daily basis that unless I see a real shocker of a story it’s difficult to remember studies from one day to the next.  

But one this week has stayed on the brain. A recent poll of 1,200 U.S. mobile phone owners finds consumers generally favor the browser experience over downloadable mobile apps when shopping, banking, booking travel or accessing information or entertainment content via their phones. In fact, a full two-thirds say they prefer the mobile web over downloadable mobile apps for shopping, information and entertainment.

The study, from Adobe Systems Inc.’s Adobe Scene7, draws its own conclusions for why consumers prefer the mobile web, including that they like the convenience of simply typing their queries and destinations right into the browser, compared to searching for an app, then downloading it from an app store. It also asserts that consumers are transferring their desktop behavior to the mobile phone, choosing the ways of browsing and searching that mirror the familiar desktop experience. It also contends most consumers have a limited appetite for the number of applications they are willing to download and maintain on their devices.

Here’s what confuses me. Overall, respondents in the study report equal satisfaction levels with their mobile browser and app experiences, and they spend nearly equal amounts of time interacting with each.

So what gives? If mobile consumers favor the mobile web, why do they say they are just as satisfied with apps, and why do they use apps the same amount as mobile sites.

My hunch is consumers likely have five to 10 apps they religiously check and love—such as an app for their bank, a weather app, or perhaps for a retailer they use frequently such as Amazon.com or eBay. Consumers love these apps because they can get in, get what they need and get out in seconds. That’s important because they use them nearly every day. That’s why app use is nearly on par with the mobile web—the apps consumers do have they use a heck of a lot.

For other retailers and services they only occasionally use, consumers would rather the app not take up precious smartphone real estate, and they don’t want to go to the trouble to find and download an app. Consumers would much rather visit an m-commerce site than house an app they’ll rarely ( if ever ) use again.

The lesson to e-retailers? If you’re not a daily staple—and most retailers aren’t—focus on an m-commerce site first. An app can’t hurt, but it should complement, not replace an m-commerce site.


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