There has been some interesting debate on
Econsultancy recently looking at the
pros and cons of mobile apps and mobile websites.

For me, the most
interesting discussion point is not the technical merits of both, but the importance
of customer experience in defining mobile strategy.

The truth is consumers don’t care how etailers deliver their mobile strategy so long as it works and helps them achieve what they set out to do.

Etailers, with their eye on a slice of the multi-billion dollar global mobile commerce pie, need to wake up to the fact that customer expectations for mobile experience are sky high and so putting them first is vital.

No second chances

Consumers are an unforgiving bunch and do not make any allowances for poor customer experiences on mobile devices, despite the relative newness of the technology.

In fact, a recent Harris Interactive survey, commissioned by Tealeaf, showed that 75% of consumers believe there is no excuse for mobile transactions failing to complete on first attempt.

So, what does this mean for the mobile web versus mobile app argument? Here are five considerations seen from a customer’s standpoint:

Taking all devices into consideration

One of the big headaches for any business considering a mobile strategy is the plethora of different devices. While desktop web browsers each have their individual quirks, they all function in largely the same way.

For the customer, it is simple; they just want the process they are trying to complete to work, no matter what platform or device they are using.
A mobile optimised website could be seen as an easy solution to this problem for businesses, but does it provide the best experience for customers?

Often an app that has been specifically created for the device in question will be easier to use. But consistency of experience is a potential issue here too. Will you develop an app for the iPhone now but leave your Android customers waiting a further six months?

Will the app be free, or will there be a charge for less popular platforms?

Making the most of improved functionality

Usability is a primary reason for thinking long and hard about how to approach mobile. Not only are mobile devices obviously a lot smaller, they include varied input mechanisms such as touchscreens.

So optimising your site or your app for touchscreen input or making sure users don’t have to scroll too much when searching for information on a small screen is vital to ensuring there is a good mobile customer experience.

This isn’t just about matching the experience customers will receive on a desktop though; it’s about enhancing it.

For example, my bank in the US now allows me to use my iPhone camera to take photos of cheques and pay them in through the mobile application itself. That’s a great experience and one that really makes me value the brand.

Think about location

Another area to focus on is where your customers will be when they are visiting your website on mobile devices. If they are out and about, will they be more likely to want to do certain tasks.

For example, an airline customer might not book an entire holiday on a mobile device, but might want to use it before a flight to check-in or change flight details.

A retail customer might like to use an app in a high street store to compare prices.

Location can be a major driver in altering customer expectations.

Multi-device, multi-platform, multichannel

The growth of mobile means the majority of us have multiple internet-enabled devices that we use on a daily basis. And that is a challenge for ebusinesses.

While we might browse for that latest purchase on a tablet or a mobile phone, the final purchase might be made on a desktop, through a contact centre or even in store.

The mobile experience must therefore take into account the fact that a consumer may access the same site or brand on a number of different devices.

Visibility into typical customer struggles

Mobile apps and mobile websites both present specific challenges and opportunities that will greatly influence the customer experience.

So it is essential that, once the mobile strategy is up and running, the business has visibility into what its customers are doing on mobile devices so the site or app being used can be optimised on an ongoing basis.

Rather than seeing mobile as a threat to sales through other channels, etailers need to gain insight into how mobile fits into the overall customer experience. The best way to achieve this is by understanding how customers actually use the channel.

Future proof your mobile offering

No matter which route you go down, this remains a very dynamic, emerging ecosystem, which changes at breakneck speed.

With functionality and features changing on a regular basis, keeping up with customer demand will be a challenge and will require a more agile approach to e-commerce.

But, no matter what the technology throws at us, there is one underlying rule that will keep all ebusinesses on the right track; if your mobile strategy serves the needs of your customers, you can’t go far wrong.