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While plenty of retailers have released mobile commerce apps, and some of them are excellent, I think the future lies with creating mobile websites, and this should be the first step into mobile commerce. 

This doesn't mean that apps don't have their place, but retailers should look to mobile commerce sites before they create an app. This is the approach taken by both M&S and John Lewis, and it makes sense for other retailers. 

Here are ten reasons to opt for the mobile web as a first step... 

Greater reach

An app restricts your mobile customer base to users of compatible handsets. By offering a mobile website, you can appeal to the broadest possible audience without having to design multiple apps. 

Mobile commerce sites can work

Since launching in May, the M&S mobile commerce site has attracted 1.2m visitors, more than 10m page views, and has attracted 13,000 orders. Also, one customer ordered two sofas for £3,280, showing that some people are prepared to spend big on mobile. 

Growth of Android

One reason why many retailer have plumped for iPhone apps over the past year has been their mobile visitor stats, which have often shown the vast majority coming from iPhones. While this is possibly still the case for many, and also a good argument for having an app as well, Android phones are now beginning to catch up

I've talked to retailers who have seen significant increases in visits from Android devices, and this trend is set to continue. A mobile website is the best way to appeal to both Android and iPhone users. 

Findability

An app requires users to actively search for it and download it to their phones, but users can come across your mobile optimised site through mobile search. This means you can appeal to users searching for particular products on their mobiles, and catch more impulse buyers. 

Promoting your app

There are now nearly 50 different app stores, and over 400,000 apps in the top three stores, meaning retailers will have to work hard not to get lost in the sheer quantity of apps out there. If you are Tesco or Argos, your apps is likely to feature in the App Store charts, but this is harder to achieve for smaller retailers. 

Mobile sites can recreate some of the best features of apps

One argument for apps over the mobile web has been the extra functionality that apps can provide, features like barcode scanning, detecting users' locations for store locators, and augmented reality. 

However, some of these things can be achieved on the mobile web now. For example, a mobile browser can detect your location (if you allow it) using HTML5 and javascript, the Google mobile site can do this.

On Android, a web site can launch Barcode Reader using a system of 'Intents' while on the iPhone, there are apps, such as pic2shop to read a barcode and integrate with mobile websites. 

Links

One thing that users miss when using apps is the hyperlink. On the mobile web you can always email a link and any browser can open it, but you can't link to and from an app. 

Having a mobile site allows you to benefit from links, and makes it easier for mobile users to share URLs of product pages. 

No approval process required

If you opt for the app route, you'll need to wait for approval before release and before you can make subsequent adjustments. Having a mobile site means you are unrestrained in your site design and can push out updates and changes whenever you want. 

HTML5

The recently released Rightmove mobile website uses HTML5, and manages to recreate the features of its iPhone app, and it's difficult to tell the difference between the two. 

I asked Benoit Maison from VisionSmarts about the impact of HTML on mobile websites: 

Mobile sites are getting much closer to apps. For example, they can work offline with local storage  Since mobile browsers are at the leading edge of HTML5 (both the iPhone and Android use Apple's WebKit), they can use all the cool HTML5+CSS3+JavaScript features.  See for example the screencast and demos on the jQTouch website if you are not convinced! 

To be fair, native apps retain an advantage for real-time, 3D games and cutting-edge user interface. But for many kinds of apps, it's not clear that it's worth the large extra cost. 

The mobile web is a better solution for small businesses

While larger retailers have the option of pushing out apps for a range of devices, for smaller businesses, creating one mobile website to cover all bases makes more sense financially.

For example, gift retailer TruffleShuffle hired an intern to design a mobile site based on the mobile site review tips from this blog, all for a few hundred pounds. 

Graham Charlton

Published 7 October, 2010 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (16)

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Axon Publishing

Is there an issue here between new and existing customers? It is likely to be existing customers who go to the trouble of downloading apps; this means that one can develop a closer relationship, and use specific language and promotions, through an app, whereas a mobile website is open to customers both existing and new, and must be much more generic in its approach. Apps offer an opportunity for more targeted communication.

almost 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Hi, I think that is a good point. A mobile site will help you appeal to new and old customers, and is therefore the best place to start. 

I don't want to dismiss the value of apps, they do seem to drive more engagement than the mobile web in some cases, so they should always be considered as part of your mobile strategy. 

almost 6 years ago

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Benoit Maison

Yes, you can't link to an app, whereas the web was designed around the hyperlink.

New customers can discover your mobile site through the usual channels (search, social), and from there they can download your app if you have one.

almost 6 years ago

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Mark-Anthony Baker

There actual is a piece of tec in development that alleviates the problem with linking to App. You should all check out http://www.myappmarks.com/page/welcome .

Its a genius piece of tec that can start to solve some of these problems. I am 100% supporter of this article on the other hand. But this needs to start with a clear defined mobile strategy to which a lot of brands are still to wake up too.

almost 6 years ago

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Mikko Rummukainen

Great points, thanks!

I see these arguments as something very useful when trying to keep away from the difficulties that go with having basically the same app for a number of different platforms. 

Also, if mobile web-apps are platform-free, and involve an engagement element, these are in turn more easily monitored and the results can be analysed in a more meaningful manner.

almost 6 years ago

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Mando Liussi Depaoli

While we can always rely on apps that are best for specific tasks, the key to the web is the full extent. Perhaps to address issues such as hyperlink we´ll see solutions like  mixed app&web platforms -freemium concept in mind-, or even more mixed up, between app, web and social networks gadget.

And thanks to mention Android (maybe Symbian as well?). I have an severe iphonificatxion 

almost 6 years ago

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Stevewhat

A conundrum! 

Our site has 40% growth in iOS based device hits from new customers, month on month, with a strong returning user base. iOS makes up 95% of all mobile visits. 

Other new customer device growth is single digit at best with very little returning customers. 

App or web? I say app to cater to the largest new and existing user base, my boss says web to cater for the potential of new customers...

Thoughts?

almost 6 years ago

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David Schreffler

The question here is: why do just one or the other? If it’s about cost, then you have to consider using a single application definition when developing your mobile offering. You can leverage a single application definition to put out a mobile app, website, tablet and desktop application and SMS campaign, all using code which is designed and developed just once. My advice is for businesses to start thinking about mobile from a long-term perspective from the very beginning. The important thing is that this eliminates the lengthy development associated with creating a mobile website, and then later deciding to create a mobile app – both can be done easily from the get go, and launched ubiquitously over thousands of devices and operating systems ensuring you reach the most customers.  

almost 6 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@stevewhat That is a conundrum! In your case, 95% seems a decent argument for an app, though you could go for a mobile site optimised for the iPhone that would at least cater for some other users. Or go for an app first, then a website... 

almost 6 years ago

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Stevewhat

Our devs have now indicated that an HTML5 build is within their capabilities (Yaye!) so I think that will be a happy(ish) compromise for me. 

My boss was basing his comments on flawed logic which really irked me ("Well Android is outselling iPhones here in AU so we must cater to them!" yet our customer niche is so far from early adopters its not funny....) yet he pays me to guide about these decisions based on customer behaviours... /sigh

Thanks for the replies (David & Graham) and for the article too :)

almost 6 years ago

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Name Tags

Great post!  These are some solid reasons to go web!

almost 6 years ago

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Murat

Also, one customer ordered two sofas for £3,280

eBay iPhone app - purchases from the app include a Lamborgini and a boat. 

The fact of the matter is that if your data is showing 75-80% + iOS visitors then you need to make a business decision of where to best spend your budget. 

over 5 years ago

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Stefan Schneider

Great article. I think the mobile web is the future. Apps will still Be a Top market but in case of commerce, static and search websites (e.g. real estate) I think there is much greater potential using mobile websites. There's one big hope I have as early as the first iPhone came out- mobile browser will need to agree in ONE standard- webkit can be the solution but I guess Mozilla, Opera and RIM don't like this... It's a shame! -Stefan www.apptauchen.de - for more info about mobile possibilities. Compare the desktop with the mobile version!

over 5 years ago

Igor Faletski

Igor Faletski, CEO at Mobify

I'd also add #11: "E-mail on mobile". More and more online retailers are building on the power of high-quality, targeted email lists. A lot of that email is checked on mobile first thing in the morning (while in bed or in the car), driving significant mobile web traffic.

over 5 years ago

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Name Tag

Apps help and are convenient, but there is just something about a full browser that an app can't bring. Great article!

about 5 years ago

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Nile Lars, Enterprise Mobility Solutions at Softweb Solutions Inc

Right. Mobile Commerce apps allow clients to take orders over phone and also manage sales from their physical stores and also It provides the facility to the clients of making layaway payment from the app itself which makes transaction process easier.

almost 2 years ago

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