January 11, 2011, 2:56 PM

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

Katie Evans

Managing Editor, International Research

 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.


Comments | 3 Responses

  • Katie, I agree with you that retailers need to have both an app as well as a mobile optimized site. The mobile site to serve casual shoppers, and an app to reach your most loyal customers if your brand has a certain level of following. Your number of subscribers on your email list or the number of followers you have on twitter or facebook are good indicators if an app should be considered. Both strategies have their pros with respect to user experience. With a mobile site, you can reach all users regardless of the device they are using, at least in most cases, and ...they don't have to install an app. On the app side, retailers can offer the _best_ possible mobile user experience. Interactions are much smoother, you can use alerts to notify customers of promotions, and once mobile payments are available, enable one-click order placement. However, the only downside of an app from a user perspective, which is switching over the an AppStore to install an app, remains. The platforms needs to offer a more seamless app installation experience, much like what Adobe Flash player does, without having to switch back and forth between apps - and I expect that day to come soon. It's time for a disclaimer: We, at Sprella offer a mobile commerce platform with the majority of features retailers need. We have launched very successful mobile applications such as Patagonia's iPhone app. However, when we try to replicate the same experience on a mobile site, we are often forced to make compromises that result in a less enjoyable user experience. But we encourage our clients to consider both strategies and choose the most appropriate one based on their customer base, IT team resource costs, time to market and budget. And about the poll result reporting equal user engagement on both mobile sites and with apps, I will defer judgement for at least another year. The current crop of mobile apps are very thin in terms of the content, mostly because of the development costs. Once this space matures and more feature rich apps are available, I would expect user engagement on apps to be much higher.

  • DM insite agrees and we've built an easy to use mCommerce suite into our ecommerce site manager. This is much cheaper, faster and easier for our customers to control than a customized App. The App's have their place as the natural extension of the optimized mobile browser but we believe the basis for any mCommerce initiative is through the browser first, then taking what you learn about your shoppers and applying this to the App market if needed.

  • Good post and a fantastic read. You have raised some valid points. Great work, keep it up. I love returning back to this site and reading the quality content you always have on offer. It was very useful for SolidPapers.com [an online college paper-writing service--Editor]. Thank you for sharing. It is really very important and valuable information

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