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Mobile apps vs. mobile websites?

By Retail Technology | Friday March 22 2013

The next in a new series of expert, exclusive comment asks whether tech-savvy consumers are happier shopping via mobile apps or mobile-optimised websites. This rapid growth area is the subject of the Ask The Expert poll on the Retail Technology homepage

So how did you vote? Which do you prefer using to browse and shop via mobile device – mobile apps or mobile-optimised websites?

Even the most cynical retail observer cannot argue with mobile retail sales in 2012 that were up 304% on 2011 and 184% year-on-year during February 2013, according to the most recent IMRG E-Retail Sales Index. It also found that conversion rates were rising, to a high of 2.6% in January 2013.

Considering the growth in this emergent m-commerce channel, it probably pays for a retailer to know where to invest. Application performance management (APM) company Compuware, recently published the findings of a global study of consumer mobile application expectations and experiences. The survey reveals that global consumers prefer mobile apps over mobile websites. 

Weighing up the options

A website designed or optimised for use on a mobile device is similar to any other website in that it consists of browser-based HTML pages that are linked together and accessed over the internet (via Wi-Fi, or 3G or 4G networks typically). Built for a smaller handheld display and touchscreen interfaces, it can display text content, data, images and video like any website. But they can also access mobile-specific features, such as click-to-call (for dialling a phone number) or location-based mapping.

By contrast, mobile apps are actual applications that are downloaded and installed on the mobile device, rather than being rendered within a browser. Users visit device-specific portals such as Apple’s App Store, Android Market or Blackberry App World to find and download apps for a given operating system. The app may pull content and data from the internet, similar to a website. Or it may download the content so it can be accessed offline.

Compuware commissioned Equation Research to conduct an online study to understand mobile application usage, expectations and experiences. A survey was conducted during October 2012 among 3,534 total smartphone/ tablet users (1,002 in the US, 509 in the UK, 509 in France, 508 in Germany, 502 in India and 504 in Japan) who had used a mobile application in the previous six months that required an internet connection.

Apps win over mobile sites

When asked about the benefits of using a mobile app versus a mobile website (i.e. a website that is specifically designed or optimised to be viewed on a mobile device), 85% of the respondents preferred mobile apps over mobile websites, primarily because apps are more convenient, faster and easier to navigate. 

Despite this, slightly more than half of users surveyed had experienced a problem with a mobile app. Among those who have experienced a problem 62% reported a crash, freeze or error; 47% experienced slow launch times, and 40% tried an app that simply would not launch.

The research also found that consumers want apps that push out personalised content as well as offers and perks based on their interests, while providing the ability to share offers, news and product recommendations virally on their social networks. However, bad mobile app experiences will likely also be shared virally which can result in poor reviews and low ratings that can impact adoption numbers. A poor mobile app experience is also likely to discourage users from using that app again.

Designing successful apps

“With consumers expecting greater experiences with mobile apps now more than ever, fulfilling those expectations doesn’t just happen – it takes a conscious effort throughout every stage of the design and development process to get it right,” said Stephen Pierzchala, Compuware APM Centre of Excellence technology strategist. 

“Performance is a crucial contributor to providing a dependable mobile app user experience, so performance should be considered a key driver in the design process. Mobile applications need to focus on a core utility, and they need to be fast and reliable in order to be valuable.”

The survey findings report titled, Mobile Apps: What Consumers Really Need and Want, is available for download (after registration) here

Contact us here with your poll ideas.

What do you think? Have your say by joining the discussion as part of the Retail Technology Group on LinkedIn.

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