Mobile Website vs Native App: Which is Better for Merchants?

mobile-apps-300X300Marissa Mayer said it best – 2014 will be the year of mobile. Earlier this year, Mayer announced that over the course of 2014 Yahoo’s mobile traffic will surpass its desktop traffic. Yahoo’s mobile traffic influx is indicative of the fact that mobile device use is on the rise and retailers need to be prepared.

While many major retailers have rolled out both apps and mobile optimized sites (spending some major cash to do so), small and mid-sized merchants, particularly those with limited resources, need to more carefully weigh their options. In an effort to help merchants make the most informed decision, we’ve outlined the most important differences between mobile websites and native apps.

Mobile Sites

Mobile sites have proven to be a valuable tool to allow universal access across devices, browsers and operating systems. When developing a mobile site though, retailers must choose between a responsive or dedicated mobile site.

Responsive mobile sites use a fluid grid to adapt the layout of the site to different devices. While these sites work well in certain contexts, such as blogs and news websites, they unfortunately fall short for merchant use. Responsive sites often take longer to load, and when every second matters, long load times can mean abandoned shopping carts, higher bounce rates and lower conversions.

Dedicated mobile sites, on the other hand, provide the opportunity to nail down all the nuances and optimize user experience. You have better control over aspects like page load time, contextual menus, page layouts and touch friendliness – all of which contribute to a mobile user’s experience and ultimately translate into conversions.
For merchants considering a mobile website, a dedicated site is a must. According to a study conducted by Marlin Mobile, dedicated websites are up to six times faster than responsive sites and offer an optimized content consumption and checkout experience. Dedicated mobile sites help reduce bounce rates and increase pageviews, meaning more conversions and more cross-selling.

Native Apps

Native apps are a great way to increase brand loyalty and engage continuously with consumers through catalog updates, offers and deals, without the limitations of a mobile browser.

With native apps, retailers can take advantage of features such as location-based services, camera and push notifications to provide an end to end immersive user experience. Take the Amazon app for example, which allows users to scan a barcode or snap a picture to find the exact product in their catalog. This functionality would not be possible on a mobile website.
Retailers can even use the added functionality to increase sales in-store. More and more shoppers are using mobile devices within brick-and-mortar locations to compare prices, research product specifications and even look up rating and review data. By creating a showrooming mode for your app, you can ensure customers get all the information they need to make a purchase without having to leave your app, or your store.

Most importantly, since native apps aren’t limited by a browser they are much faster than mobile sites. We recently conducted a survey of our clients and found that average users completed transactions in 72 seconds when using a native app and took more than double that time, 180 seconds, to do the same on a mobile website. Those one hundred extra seconds might seem quick, but in mobile shopping time, a second can make all the difference. By allowing users to transact faster, there is greater opportunity for increased transactions and higher conversions.

At MartMobi, we recently conducted a survey of more than 100 online retailers and found that 40 percent either had built or were planning to build a native app (iOS or Android). Even more importantly though, 90 percent of retailers believed that they needed a dedicated mobile site.

Irrespective of their size, merchants with a strong brand and a community of loyal followers should consider building a native app. With its speed and added functionality, native apps best cater to the needs of customers. However if resources, like marketing budget and personnel, are a concern a mobile site is a practical, yet less development heavy option.

Satya Ganni is the founder and CEO of mobile commerce platform MartMobi

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