The App and Mobile Web Dichotomy: The Great Debate Evolves

In today’s mobile landscape, retailers of all sizes are asking themselves where they should devote their time and budget – to an app or a mobile website?

Tough Choices

Traditionally, retailers have created apps to offer customers a premium mobile shopping experience that couldn’t be delivered on the mobile web due to the limitations of web technologies. The app experience was promised to be faster, sleeker, have advanced native phone features (i.e. push notifications), and engage shoppers in a way the mobile web never could.

While some shopping apps deliver on this promise, they are also likely to cause headaches for many retailers. Apps are like construction projects – generally more expensive and complex than they first appear. The on-going management (often of separate codebases for iOS and Android) and need to be continuously optimized can make it difficult to justify the spend. On the other hand, 63% of people expect to be doing more shopping on their mobile devices over the next couple of years. This leaves many retailers with tough decisions about investing in a responsive website, an app, or both, to satisfy their shoppers.

So how do retailers start evaluating this tough decision?

Paradigm Shift

We believe the future of the mobile web is nimble, app-like experiences that take place on browsers. Delivering a responsive site as part of your mobile strategy is a great start, but it’s soon going to be the bare minimum. This is because app-like experiences on the web (called “web-apps”) will deliver a superior mobile experience and address most of the shopping use cases retailers previously used to justify building a native app.

These web-apps are the future of the mobile web, and some would argue desktop as well. They deliver app-like speed, interactions, home screen icon real-estate, push notifications and a myriad of other features. We’ve been speaking with our customers about web-apps a lot recently and their excitement is evident and contagious.

To learn more about these web apps, watch this video from Google.

What Does This Mean For Native Apps?

Native apps aren’t going away. As the mobile web becomes more app-like and delivers on most shopping use cases, the challenge for retailers will be to understand those high-value points on their customers’ journeys that can be enhanced via the native features of mobile device. These high-value mobile moments will serve as an opportunity to create apps that deliver experience enhancement and brand moments in and out of the physical store.

We will see more apps used to build customer loyalty, deliver customer service, organize communities of passionate customers, and enhance the in-store experience. Native apps have a very bright future as hubs of brand engagement, but the role of the mobile web and native apps will become more defined than before. As opposed to competing for attention and usage, native apps and web-apps will compliment each other, create more enjoyable shopping experiences, build brand value, and keep customers coming back.