To App or Not to App: The eCommerce Question 

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The mobile web is here to stay: businesses know it and users know it.

Not only is the use of mobile devices increasing, ecommerce via mobile is also on the upswing.

This isn’t news and most online businesses with any sense have made their websites mobile responsive.

Is it enough though? Should your e-commerce business be creating its own app?

The Pros

Why the heck would an e-commerce business want to create an app, when they have a perfectly good website?

#1 More people are buying via apps

According to Criteo, the number of people using mobile apps to buy from e-commerce stores is on the rise.

Already the UK and Japan sell more online via apps than they do via traditional desktop websites.

While the US is flagging behind at a mere 35% or so, the top 12 countries studied, including the USA, still show an increase in year on year sales via mobile apps.

Trends are indicating that this is only going to increase in the near future.

#2 Apps convert better

Having a dedicated app to showcase and sell your goods has a marked effect on conversion rates. The Criteo report stats that on average ecommerce apps convert 3 times more effectively than standard mobile browser sites.

This includes a higher number of products viewed per user, and increased rate of add to cart and a higher checkout rate.

All in all apps beat mobile sites hands down when it comes to conversions.

#3 Apps help customer retention

Having an app there on your phone means you’re going to see it more often.

As a result, customer retention (and therefore repeat sales) is increased with apps over mobile sites (where a user would have to actively seek out the site).

App users are in fact twice as likely to use the app to buy again within 30 days of a purchase than web users are.

This isn’t all roses of course as Localytics suggests that even the best app out there loses users every month. The average user retention rate is only 25% after 3 months.

#4 Offline use & speed

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a connection all the time on their smartphone. Regardless of this, apps still work offline!

This allows for smart businesses to keep people interested in their products even without an internet connection.

Of course, keeping the app size down is key especially if you have a large inventory but it can still be done.

As well as that by leveraging an app you can reduce the time it takes users to get to the data they need by storing some or all of it locally on the users device. The faster people can buy the less likely they are to go elsewhere to buy.

#5 Brand awareness

How often do you look at your phone or flick through the app screens? Even a light phone user is likely to do this several times a day and what better to catch their eye than your ecommerce logo on their screen!

If nothing else, the mere fact that the app is installed and logo is visible helps your business by reinforcing your brand with the phone user.

The Cons

As with anything in life there’s always some cons, so why would you not want to create a mobile app for your e-commerce site?

#1 The cost

This is usually the biggest obstacle, especially for smaller businesses.

There’s no denying that if you want a decent app you will have to pay for it. I stated in a previous article about creating apps that the average cost for a mobile app is about $270,000.

Of course you can create an app for less than this, and if you’re willing to use one of the seemingly endless online app creators you can probably create one for a fraction of the price.

As always though cheap rarely equates to quality, and the idea behind and app is to provide that seamless and easy to use experience that savvy mobile users want. An effortless user experience has been proven to increase conversions, so making an app that is just as or more difficult to use than your site makes no financial sense.

As well as the initial build costs you will need to account for multi-platform costs (at least iOS and Android) and ongoing maintenance to fix initial bugs and to account for operating system changes.

For most small businesses, this is simply too much to bear, which is when a smartly created mobile orientated website will work.

There’s a third road where you can create a basic app and use the website as main force behind it, requiring less development: basically the app is little more than a bookmark.

#2 Time to develop

Though perhaps not the worst con out there, the time it takes to get an app developed (unless you really throw money at it) can be quite some time.

It’s not out of the realm of possibility for it to take 6 to 12 months to get your app from idea to a fully realised system.

#3 Discoverability

iOS and Androids app stores combined contain over 4 million apps. Your app is going to be like a grain of sand on a beach: easily missed!

Sure you can promote the app on your own site and that may get you some visitors and sales, but getting a new e-commerce app to generate new customers is a difficult proposition.

Onboarding visitors to show them how your app works and how it benefits them can help, and there’s nothing wrong with a bit opf bribery via a discount either!

Without extensive research and a solid marketing plan for the app itself, it is quite possible that the app will simply not get off the ground. This means a loss of time and money.

The Bottom Line

Creating an app for your e-commerce site is not without risks, but the potential rewards could make it worthwhile.

The key is to make sure that your audience research is on point, and that your existing users (which will likely make up a large proportion of your app user base) is going to use the app.

Offering an exceptional user experience can go a long way to beating your rivals, especially if they see there apps as nothing more than copies of their websites (a big mistake!).

Remember: apps are here to stay for the foreseeable future, and sales via apps is growing year on year the world over. Should your e-commerce business be left behind?

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