Flipkart, India’s answer to Amazon, bid adieu to its mobile website with the Big App Shopping Sale in March, 2015. From here on out, Flipkart shopping is all about the mobile app. Myntra, India’s foremost e-commerce fashion site, has shut down its mobile website, and may ditch browser-based shopping altogether. Such is the rising power of mobile.
With e-commerce firms actively pushing consumers to their apps and leveraging attractive discounts and deals to encourage consumers to buy through the apps, having a mobile app in place is now all but essential. From Amazon’s Happiness Day sale in November 2014 to Myntra’s Binge Weekend Sale and Snapdeal’s App Fest in February 2015, the offers on mobile apps just keep on coming.
“There is a business reason behind promoting apps,” says Mr. Rajiv Srivastsa, founder and chief operating officer of Urban Ladder. “It leads to higher conversion and engagement. If you build only an app platform, it is cheaper as you don’t have to invest in two-sets of codes – both mobile website and app. However, in the long run, one has to engage the user enough, so she doesn’t uninstall the app.”
Though apps offer an attractive way for e-commerce players to interact with their consumers, it is neither easy nor advisable to force apps on customers. According to a study conducted by ICM Research in UK, a majority of customers prefer to interact with retailers through their mobile websites and only download an app if they are incentivized to do so, or if they are regular shoppers. And yet the same consumers are far more likely to complete transactions through the retailer’s mobile app than through the mobile website.
“Going app-only makes sense if you can provide an experience not otherwise possible on the mobile web platform,” says Shamik Sharma, chief product and technology officer at Myntra.
There are crucial differences in the ways mobile websites and mobile apps help customers navigate and experience their shopping journeys. Mobile apps function a lot like mobile websites. They have certain operational and functional benefits and they have downsides as well. Customers can interact with the app 24/7 no matter where they may be. The IT advantage for business is having their own corner on a customer’s device. Mobile apps promote a customized experience because they work in the background, allowing e-retailers to collect user-specific data such as recurring purchases, duration of browsing, preferred platform to share information, geo-location and so on. The downside involves convincing customers it’s in their interest to install the app and give up permissions.
Some businesses simply prefer both mobile websites and mobile apps. For example, India’s MakeMyTrip mobile site is an acquisition platform while the app is a loyalty and retention platform complementing its desktop presence. According to Pranav Basin, head of online products for Makemytrip.com, “The desktop plus mobile app is a great combo. They complement each other perfectly”. Ankit Khanna, Senior VP for product development at Snapdeal cautions, “We do not want to force consumers to download our app. If they want to browse first and buy later, we enable them to do that”.
While an app install “cost” is high, once you get the consumer on board the marketing cost could shrink.
While mobile apps enable better targeting of customers, the major draw back is the extra step introduced into the shopping journey – at least the first time around. As one e-marketer pointed out, with e-commerce you click and buy. With an app, you click, you download and install, and then you buy.