We live in a world dominated by constant consumption and it’s no surprise that our mobile devices are partially responsible for this. It is estimated that in this year, the amount of mobile internet users will be more than the amount of desktop internet users.

56 percent of American adults own smartphones. At this rate, it’s a no-brainer to adjust one’s service toward hand-held success.

The most common standard for mobilization is a mobile-optimized site. With more than 50 percent of mobile phone users using mobile as their primary internet source, it’s crucial to cater to the consumer. An alternative to a mobile-friendly website is an app. Major retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, and Target have dedicated apps for their customers. Retailers’ apps with store mode gather five times more engagement and according to this infographic, a startling 72% of tablet owners make purchases from their devices on a weekly basis.

There are several reasons to go for and against apps and mobile sites, let’s take a look at what may be a best fit for your brand.

Pros of a mobile site

Universal access – Having a mobile site means your site is accessible from anywhere and across any device. All that is required is internet service and the url address. With a mobile-optimized site, a potential consumer can find you via iPhone, Android, Windows, or internet browser available to their mobile OS. Mobiles sites are particularly beneficial for one-time customers who don’t yet feel brand loyalty enough to download a retailer’s app. The ease of a mobile site is an advantage for sales as it eliminates required steps such as downloading or logging-in prior to a purchase.

Easier to maintain – Mobile sites are a more cost-efficient method for smartphones and tablets and much easier to maintain than updating an app. Building an app may require hiring an outside app developer, which is a costly expense for smaller e-commerce brands.

An increasing amount of websites have started to utilize responsive design, a program that re-adjusts its look for whatever type of screen it is displayed on. Most online stores prefer this option to make navigation and sales, easier for the consumer. Companies Bigcommerce and Shopify both have built-in support for this, so you essentially only build and update the traditional website, and the mobile site is automatically generated from that, requiring less time, money, and maintenance. Even self-hosted shopping cart services like Magento now come packaged with an iPhone optimized theme. Here’s a tutorial.

Cons of a mobile site

The downside of mobile sites is the lack of feature-rich aesthetics found in desktop sites, and if a lot of your sales and persona is tied to your brand’s look, a good mobile template or design might end up costing you just as much as building an app.

Mobile sites also have its limitations. Most are bare solely for catalogs and checkout pages. Most of the information pages are left out or details are appear too text-heavy and are not nearly as accessible or consumer friendly as they would be on a desktop site.

If your sales process depends a lot on educating your customers through blog posts and resource pages, the text may not be as effective on a hand-held device. For example, many stores rely on displaying their unique selling proposition below their ‘add to cart’ buttons or within the checkout page. However, a smaller screen may hinder this sale advantage.

Pros of an app

80 percent of mobile time is spent on apps, and what better way to utilize a user’s time than with an app dedicated exclusively to your business!

Speed – Apps will almost always be faster than websites, since most of the design data is built into the app itself without the reliance of heavy internet connection or loading. The swift and easy navigation through products and checkout is a key component to generating sales. Where a poorly functioning or loading website can deter a sale, an app can ease the experience. Most apps also store a user’s credit card information, making purchases and deliveries as easy as a push of a button.

Branding and loyalty – Apps are a the perfect way to increase and build brand loyalty. An app keeps a consumer up-to-date on sales, deals, the latest news and products.

An app is a primary source to deliver extra content and coupons to loyal customers and helps build brand awareness for new ones. A store that sells fitness equipment could release a special fitness tracker app, which would build an association in a customer’s head for fitness toward that company.

Extra features – With apps, one can utilize phone features like push notifications, GPS location services, and the camera to provide a fuller, immersive experience for a user. For instance, eBay’s app allows one to scan any product’s barcode using the phone’s camera to search for that exact product in eBay listings.


Walgreens’ mobile app allows one to simply scan the barcode of their prescription bottle to order a refill. There is also a feature where one can use the phone itself as a rewards card to scan for points during checkout, eliminating the need to carry around a physical card.

In December 2012, Walgreen’s teamed up with Starbucks and included games within their app where customers could “scratch off” virtual cards to win Starbucks products at participating Walgreens stores. Having an app may open a lot of doors for ways to interact with a customer.

Bluetooth LE – Bluetooth LE (low energy) is a recent technology where small sensors send out signals to nearby smartphones and devices, which may become a game changer for retailers with apps. For instance, one can be browsing the jeans selection at a retail store, the bluetooth LE device installed in-store can send a signal to the retailer’s app on the phone to inform  the customer of a discount or sale on the jeans they are currently browsing. It can also pull up on-screen the items you are browsing to be shipped directly to your home. The Bluetooth LE may revolutionize the way we shop online and offline.

Cons of an app:

Cost – As previously stated, a developer is likely necessary to build a decent, functioning app. The maintenance of an app requires constant upkeep for bugs, problems and glitches. Also, downloaders would then be required to continually update their app to fix the issues. There are different bugs and maintenance issues that come with having an app. If a bug interferes with a customer’s experience, it halts the app use entirely.

In addition, one may need to create separate apps for each mobile platform, most notably for iOS and Android users, as both platforms have different back-ends. Apps also require revenue sharing since both Apple and Google charge a hefty commission on purchases and ads. Depending on the size of one’s company, the cost of creating an app may outweigh its return.

Two-step process – A challenge a small company may face with apps is creating awareness of the app itself while also converting its users into customers. Additional marking may be needed to push mobile ads, or further promote the app prominently across ones social and web presence. Particularly different from a mobile site which is mostly based on particular visits, there must be an added incentive or exclusive feature within the app to encourage a download.

Developing a mobile app can be a good part of an overall marketing strategy, but only when a solid strategy and plan is already in place. Be creative and break the convention with your app features – otherwise there may be no additional benefit of having one.

These days, not having at least a mobile-optimized site for your business is like closing your store one day each week. And with 4 out of 5 consumers using smartphones to shop, hosting a mobile-friendly site or app is arguably the new brand standard.

Whatever hand-held direction you choose, its imperative for businesses to fit within the box, or in this case, screen.

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