What is Better For Ecommerce: Mobile Websites or Mobile Apps?

Mobile apps have been a dominant topic of discussion for the past year and with good reason. Research2Guidance estimated that mobile apps have exploded into a $7.68 billion market. The Android app store passed 10 billion downloads last month, a feat that Apple’s app store achieved in January of last year.

With this dynamic growth there is a great pressure for startups and small companies to make their own app to keep up with the changing tastes of consumers. A survey conducted by AT&T showed 72% of small businesses made use of mobile apps and 34% stated it would be hard to survive without them.

However, a recent survey conducted by Zmags showed exactly how consumers prefer to shop. Contrary to the buzz being generated by mobile apps, only 4% of consumers prefer to shop via an app on their smart phone or tablet.  This is likely due to the fact the mobile app market is built around selling apps themselves and not facilitating the selling of products through apps. Mobile websites have more promising numbers with 14% of consumers preferring to shop via a website on their Smartphone and 9% via a website on their tablet. 

These numbers are still miles away from reaching the 87% consumer preference rate of shopping on a website via PC and laptop.  However, the survey found that 87% of tablet users who did do holiday shopping on their tablets spent an average of $325! And almost half of tablet users are expecting to shop more on their tablets in the next year.

So, it seems that, although consumers prefer to shop in person or via a PC, the tablet market is starting to rev up and consumers are starting to enjoy the experience. Further proving this, the survey showed tablet users are much happier to shop on their tablet then PC users on their PC.

Breaking it down, all these findings signal to small businesses that a company’s website is far more important than a mobile app. However, it is absolutely crucial that the company website be mobile compatible to ensure a positive user experience when they land on the page. The survey did show the top reasons why tablet users where using their devices for shopping was convenience and ease of transaction.

Making a website compatible with mobile devices can be a challenging exercise if one is trying to convert an existing website.  However, if one is starting the creation of one, start with the smartphone website as the small screen size makes you focus on the core of what needs to be displayed, then move up to tablets and finally the full website.  For more tips on planning website content you can see my article on writing for the web.

While clearly consumers are shopping via websites, mobile apps are an emerging market and shouldn’t be discounted.  For some markets it might make more sense to have a mobile app then others.  Recent studies show consumers now spend more time on mobile apps then on mobile browsers which means that the app market is dominating. However, it is important to remember that although the mobile app market is huge, for right now and for the foreseeable future consumers are shopping on websites. 

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