Native App vs. Web App: Which Is Better for Mobile Commerce?

One of the primary beneficiaries of the smartphone (and now tablet) boom is the mobile commerce space. Mobile commerce revenues may still pale in comparison to their ecommerce brothers, but we’re already seeing signs ofmobile commerce’s potential.
Companies like eBay and Amazon are bringing in billions of dollars a year from their mobile apps and mobile commerce sites. Marketing firm Performics reported that 49% of “heavy mobile web users” have made a purchase using a mobile device.
For merchants, it’s no longer enough to have an ecommerce strategy — businesses need to embrace a mobile commerce strategy as well. For most businesses, that means making a choice of creating an optimized mobile commerce website or a native mobile application.

Choosing Between Mobile and Native Apps

One of the resounding themes for mobile software developers in 2011 is the debate between building a native app or building a mobile web app. While some developers are looking at ways to build hybrid solutions, this is a topic that continues to become more complex.
This is especially true for mobile commerce sites, where the conversion rates between browsers and purchasers can vary dramatically based on the platform and the method of presentation.
David Eads, the vice president of product marketing at Kony Solutions recently wrote an article for Mobile Commerce assessing the mobile channels brands need to support.
Eads makes the argument that it is “critical” for brands to seek to support as many mobile devices as possible. That said, deciding how to allocate resources can be difficult.

Apps or Mobile Web: Conversion Rate is Platform Dependent

Although comScore’s MobileLens report ending in November 2010 indicates that nearly twice as many smartphone users accessed online retail via a website rather than a native app, that only tells part of the story.
David Eads reports that Kony Solutions sees 30% higher conversion rates for native iPhone apps versus typical mobile websites. Meanwhile, native Android apps tend to have about the same conversion rate as mobile commerce sites, and native BlackBerry apps have a lower conversion rate.
In other words, it isn’t just about choosing native apps or choosing the mobile web — it’s also about looking at who your customers are and what devices they use. For retailers that have lots of iPhone users, the fact that 50% of users can come from a native app and the conversion rate can be 30% higher makes a strong argument for creating a native app. Meanwhile, if conversion rates for native BlackBerry apps are subpar, it might make more sense to focus on optimizing the mobile commerce site to work with the BlackBerry browser.

Optimize for the Device: Speed Counts

Just like with standard ecommerce sites, speed and experience can make a huge difference in the effectiveness of a mobile commerce website or native application.
Sites that are slow to load — even by just a second or two — can often lead to users forgoing the transaction altogether. Mobile websites that aren’t optimized for touch or for larger screens can make customers confused, and again, unlikely to purchase.
In its Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance IndexInternet Retailer ranks mobile commerce websites based on load time, success rate and other factors. It noted last week that the recently revamped m-commerce site moved the retailer up seven places in its index from the previous week.
Interestingly, the #1 mobile commerce site on Internet Retailer‘s index, Walgreens, is nearly identical in appearance to its native iPhone app.

HTML5 to the Future

As with videoHTML5 could play a key role in allowing retailers to create mobile commerce strategies that serve both the native and the mobile web masters.
Taking advantage of local data storage, better hardware integration and offline capabilities, an app created in HTML5 with a bit of tweaking, developers could create optimized experiences for tablets, smartphones and future devices without needing to reinvent the wheel every single time.
Are you looking into mobile commerce as as strategy for your business? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


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