The rush for branded apps seems to have peaked, but are businesses missing a trick if they focus solely on building responsive, mobile-friendly websites? Because research suggests that the app/mobile site dilemma is not a simple either/or choice after all.

Google’s recent announcement that mobile-friendly websites will receive a boost in SERPs clearly demonstrates how targeting customers via smartphones and tablets is non-negotiable. But should businesses go the distance and develop a corporate app, or is a mobile-optimised site sufficient?

The mobile app paradox

Researchers found that approximately 86% of a consumer’s time on mobile is spent using apps, whilst mobile web browsing accounts for other 14%. Initially this would suggest that branded app development is a no-brainer, but delving further into the statistics should give marketers pause for thought.

Because one-third (32%) of a consumer’s smartphone interaction is devoted to mobile gaming for instance. When it comes to specific apps, Facebook is ahead of the pack, capturing 17% of the owner’s Internet time. In terms of branded apps, none has managed to make any serious impact in the marketplace.

Mobile websites remain vital

Although consumers use apps to browse products, or to showroom as they shop on the high street, they are not as effective when it comes to converting sales. Instead two thirds (67%) of users are more likely to buy from a mobile-friendly website.

Research undertaken by the Arbitron Mobile smartphone panel reveals that smartphone users flick between ecommerce apps and mobile sites with some interesting differences. Consumers make more individual visits to mobile websites each month, but the sessions conducted via apps tend to be longer in duration. Around 35% of smartphone survey participants chose to access Amazon via the website, with just 13% choosing the branded app.

Apps and sites – serving different purposes?

The differences in session duration revealed by the Arbitron survey suggest that mobile websites and branded apps meet different needs for consumers. Using the Amazon example again, website visitors spent 19.8 minutes browsing and shopping each month. App users on the other hand averaged 40 minutes monthly, suggesting that the experience is better suited to browsing, rather than buying.

Going mobile – it’s not an either/or proposition

Such observations have important implications for both apps and mobile websites. It is unlikely that shoppers spend longer ‘inside’ apps because the experience is less satisfying, rather that apps make it easier to surface relevant products, content or services. At the same time, apps do not encourage repeated use, and seem to fail when it comes to final conversion into sales.

The reality is that apps and websites are not an either/or proposition. According to the research, business can get by without a branded app so long as they have a responsive website in place. However choosing to forego a corporate app could be passing up the opportunity to engage potential customers early in the purchasing process.

For the cash-strapped marketer, the focus must be on mobile website optimisation. But wherever budget allows, a branded app could help further boost customer acquisition and engagement.

The key things to remember are:

  • A responsive website design is essential for the modern online marketplace
  • Apps may engage customers for longer, but mobile sites are better for sales conversions
  • Apps can accompany mobile sites, but they cannot replace them


By Sylvia Jensen, Director of EMEA Marketing at Oracle


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