Mobile Sites, Mobile Apps or Both?

Ann All

Last week I wrote about the growing importance of mobility in e-commerce strategies, sharing experts' opinions that mobility has the potential to change the shopping experience as much as the Internet itself did 15 years ago.


I noted that the mobile shopping experience would need to improve, citing a recent Harris Interactive survey that found four out of five consumers who conducted an online transaction on a mobile device in the past year reported they had problems completing their transactions.


Companies have two choices for reaching consumers on their mobile devices: mobile applications or mobile versions of their websites. David Mastovich, president of marketing company MASSolutions, writes in Tech Journal South about some of the benefits of both approaches. A big advantage of mobile websites is they leverage existing technology and are thus less expensive than developing new apps.


IT Business Edge's Carl Weinschenk got a similar take from Sheila Dahlgren, senior product marketing manager for Adobe Scene7, when he interviewed her about the company's Rich Mobile Commerce Survey in August.


Dahlgren told Carl that about half of the survey respondents planned to use both mobile versions of websites and mobile applications. More than 80 percent are planning a mobile website, while mobile applications on their own "were in single digits." Mobile sites are seen as a key part of mobile commerce strategies. Said Dahlgren:

... I think that it's easier and quicker to deploy mobile sites because investments are already there. They are utilizing tools that were used already because they already are managing a website. Secondly, we asked about traffic. The traffic is significantly higher with a site. ... If you are going for broad traffic and awareness, you need a mobile-optimized website as opposed to making a consumer download an app.

The main advantage mobile apps have over mobile websites is they typically offer a more sophisticated user experience, said Dahlgren:

We found mobile sites are not as rich an experience as they should be or could be. The applications lend themselves to a better experience right now. ... Clearly on app side-with full-screen video, detailed zoom to closely examine products, easy ways to navigate such as grids, rows and columns to view multiple products-things are better. We've seen those things executed in apps, but not necessarily yet on the mobile-optimized websites.

A recent survey by Antenna Software appears to back up Dahlgren's view. Twenty-seven percent of British and American smartphone users said they were discouraged from using the mobile Internet by websites that did not display properly on their screens. Also, 28 percent of U.S. respondents and 32 percent of UK respondents cited difficulty in navigating websites on mobile devices.


An InfoWorld story about the survey notes the difficulty mobility presents for site designers who must contend not only with different mobile platforms, but also devices with different form factors and varying levels of capabilities.


For those who opt for apps rather than mobile sites or for both, Mastovich offers some good advice in the Tech Journal South piece:

  • Begin by identifying target users for an app. Determine why they would use or need the app.
  • Provide fresh, up-to-date content that adds value for users. The more time sensitive, the better. Announce specials and provide new information.
  • Make apps convenient and easy to use. Build apps for each mobile phone platform.
  • Make sure an app does something and isn't just a mobile website. Otherwise, why make the bigger investment?
  • Promote apps via multiple mediums like email, text, Twitter and websites.

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