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.