While companies continue to invest heavily in native mobile app development, the use of responsive design (and to a lesser extent adaptive design) continues to grow.

That's not surprising. Native mobile apps, despite their appeal and many potential advantages, aren't a panacea.

They can be costly to build and evolve, there's often a lot of friction around getting users to install them and enticing users to continue using them is downright difficult. The latter issues have led to significant customer acquisition and retention costs.

But none of this stopped Flipkart, India's largest ecommerce player, from killing its mobile website and forcing mobile users to download the company's iOS and Android apps.

According to ZDNet's Rajiv Rao, the company may even consider demanding that desktop users switch to mobile too. He explains:

India has had a very different experience than the US and China when it comes to mass technology adoption. It has skipped the PC revolution that these other countries went through, and instead went straight to a smartphone one through which most Indians experience the internet. This, of course, has had major ramifications for e-commerce companies hoping to capitalise on the oncoming boom.

Flipkart's move looks somewhat less drastic given that upwards of 75% of its traffic is reportedly mobile anyway. And as Rao notes, pushing users onto a mobile app could help Flipkart address performance issues that have negatively affected users.

Last year, its website was unable to deal with the load created by a major sales event. Could this have been prevented if users had been accessing Flipkart through the company's mobile apps?

Rao believes so:

Now, if you tack on a gigantic population with miserable internet connection speeds, the prospect of scaling up your website operations and back end to deal with not only the overload on it, but also the abysmal experience on the consumer end, whether it is mobile or desktop, is even more bleak. An app allows a user to stay logged in while updates and other information are efficiently and constantly downloaded, ready for consumption almost instantly. It is, in fact, perfect for low-bandwidth situations.

Lessons for the rest of the world

While it's easy to dismiss Flipkart's strategy as an artefact of the Indian market, there are lessons for companies in other parts of the world.

One is that it's important to understand who your users are, how they're accessing your service and how they can access your service. In Flipkart's case, not only is mobile usage already sky-high, the company knows that virtually all of the individuals in its target market have the ability to use its apps. So a mobile-only approach isn't nearly as risky as it might appear.

Another important lesson is that customer experience is holistic. Far too many companies believe that their mobile customer experience is satisfactory because they have a website that is appropriately formatted for mobile using either a responsive or adaptive approach. But customer experience isn't just about formatting.

Performance matters, and where a company can't deliver acceptable performance, or do so in a cost-effective manner, it should re-evaluate how it delivers its service even if that raises the possibility of employing an unpopular strategy.

Patricio Robles

Published 2 April, 2015 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (3)

Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck, Research Analyst at EconsultancySmall Business

Yeah this caught my eye as well. And though it may work for Flipkart I think it's dangerous for brands to try to move their customers from web to mobile.

When considering shifting capabilities to an app, brands should research the marketing costs to get people to download, use, and keep using your app - and then weigh that up against the expected revenue per user. I suspect that most will see negative numbers.

For those who can pull it off, they will certainly win their customers' attention - but for most I think mobile apps are a black hole of time and effort.

over 2 years ago

Mike Thompson

Mike Thompson, Digital Manager at blu UK

Totally agree with Jeff here. This is a risky move and Flipkart might be more likely to get away with it is because it promises a vastly improved user experience.

UK brands need to ensure that any app they build has clear and demonstrable USPs for it's target audience. The app needs to fill a user need, it needs to have purpose beyond that currently being fulfilled by another channel.

Great article on future of native apps:
https://econsultancy.com/blog/65690-is-there-a-future-for-native-apps

over 2 years ago

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Hemant Sharma, IT Specialist at NA

Yes they may be successful in this similar to amazon and eBay but will loose some people like me who are not always on shopping mode and want to get unwanted nitifications...

over 2 years ago

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