Why a Mobile Website Won't Cut It – Investing in Mobile pt. 2

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Agnieszka Twardosz
Why a Mobile Website Won't Cut It – Investing in Mobile pt. 2

Mobile website or app? Upon reading the title, you may think that you already know the answer, but as with most things in life – it's a bit more complicated than just going with one or the other.

Welcome to the second installment of our Investing in Mobile series, where you will learn all about the differences between mobile websites and applications. Spoiler alert: both are essential, but the key to higher conversion rates and increasing engagement lies in well-crafted applications. Keep reading to find out why.

Did you miss the first article in the series? Click here to read Mobile Is Dead – Long Live Mobile and see some impressive data on just how many of us now own smartphones and use them every day.

People love apps, but...

If someone is using a smartphone, 90% of the time, they're in an app, with mobile web only taking up the remaining 10%. What about m-commerce? Every month, the average person spends 201.8 minutes shopping in apps and just 10.9 minutes on mobile websites.

At first glance, you might instantly conclude that you're far more likely to catch people's attention and get them to buy your products if you focus all your efforts on your app. Maybe your mobile website should only redirect the users to the application? Despite all the great things that we have to say about apps, that is not really a good strategy. This may be a surprising way to start an article called "Why a Mobile Version of Your Website Won't Cut It", but… you really need to know that while mobile web is not enough on its own, neither are apps – even well-designed ones.

Apps are tools that most modern companies cannot do without, but like all tools, they only work well within the proper context – and even the best tool is not enough, on its own, to complete a complex project. If you bought the best drill in the world, you wouldn't throw your trusted hammer into the trash. (And if you did, you'd probably regret it as soon as you had to drive a nail into a wall). Apps are not the be-all and end-all that will cause the mobile web to become a relic of the not-so-distant past.

Unless your company is called Google or Facebook, your app likely won't be preinstalled on anyone's mobile. Some businesses do manage to strike deals with smartphone producers, but in most cases, before a user can get drawn into that flawless experience you designed, you first need to convince them to install the application on their device. Downloading an app sounds easy enough, but it's not a decision taken lightly for most people. The average person only has 40 apps installed on their phone, and 50% of consumers will only consider installing well-known applications. The truth is that most people won't become familiar with your brand because of your app – they will download the app because they already like the brand

And what about all that time people spend in apps? With each passing year, we dedicate more of our day to our mobile devices – in 2020, the average person spent 4 hours and 10 minutes staring at their tiny screen. However, this statistic comes with a disclaimer as well. Three categories always took up about 80% of users' attention throughout recent years, namely social media & communication, games, and video & entertainment.

There is no reason to get discouraged. As the overall pie keeps growing, so is the absolute amount of time spent by users in other types of apps, such as retail, finance, and business. Still, it's important to remember that a ferocious battle for the owner's attention is constantly raging on every smartphone. If you want to take advantage of mobile applications' capabilities, you need to launch a polished product. Make sure that it will not only keep users coming back but also make them fall in love with it upon the first launch. If you don't, well… expect no mercy. In developed countries, 40% to 45% of apps get uninstalled within 30 days from the install. 45.6% of those uninstalls take place just one day after the initial download.

Cast a wide net for mobile user acquisition

Users tend to download apps for a reason – smartphones are a mature technology, and few people will leap at any random app just for the thrill of getting to know some new software. Even if consumers regularly got apps for no apparent reason, the competition has now reached an unbelievable level. More than 6 million apps are available in leading app stores as of Q4 2020. There was a 17% increase in the number of published shopping apps last year, so if you want to set yourself apart from the crowd, you need to convince potential users that your app will give them value. Communicate how the application can add quality to a user's life and make it easier for them to access products and services they already want to purchase.

So how do you get people to want to buy whatever your brand has to offer and subsequently want to download your app? We seem to have reached the great question of marketing, and this article won't attempt to give you an answer. After all, hundreds of books have already been written on this subject, and hopefully, your marketing division is already running like a well-oiled machine. 

What we do need to tell you as digital transformation specialists, though, is that the importance of a strong Internet presence in the form of an easy-to-use mobile website cannot be overstated. Depending on the country, 69% to almost 98% of people perform product research on their smartphones while already in-store. 81.5% of people aged 16-64 searched online for a product or service to buy and 90.4% visited an online retail site or store. 55% of general web traffic already runs through mobile, and product research is often contextual – people do it while already inside a physical store. All that means a well-managed mobile website may be your best chance to strike potential customers with a memorable first impression.

While working on your mobile strategy, direct some focus towards your website – it does a great job at user acquisition. Let it serve as an initial phase of a funnel that will convert people who didn't know much about your brand into regular users of your app and members of your community. Make sure to optimize your website for search engines, especially Google, so that consumers can come across your offering when they're especially receptive to your communication. When consumers decide to research products in your category, they signal that they're genuinely interested in getting to know what you have to offer – you need to make sure that it will be visible and attractive.

Few people will invest their time, energy, and phone memory to go from Google right to your app, which needs to be downloaded, installed, and sometimes also configured for long-term usage. However, quite many may decide to check out your website, get to know your brand, and in time – who knows – grow to like your products or services and download your application so that they can access them easily in the future.

The coveted app conversion rate: how high is it?

When it comes to mobile sales, applications are known as the best way to interest customers and get them to open up their wallets. In Europe, shopping apps convert up to 3x more than mobile websites. Depending on the benchmark, applications' conversion rate is usually 1.5x to 3x larger. Consumers who use retail apps instead of the browser will view 4.2x more products per session and convert 4.5x more often. These figures reveal a pattern that seems challenging to undermine – apps lead to more interactions with your brand's offerings and get consumers to buy more.

But why do users react so positively to applications? Why is their dominance over mobile websites so overwhelming? An explanation would take up an entire article. Fortunately, you're reading just the right one.

All about UX

The main argument in favor of mobile apps is an entire list of reasons that could mostly be summed up in just three words: improved user experience. Let's look at mobile apps' characteristics that allow them to beat the mobile web in usability.

Invisible UX

According to NN Group, convenience is one of the main expectations of e-commerce users. People don't want to waste their time on useless actions, and they'd rather not invest their precious mental energy in looking for the right button to lead them to whichever function they happen to need. Proper UX should be invisible – the goal is for even the least experienced user to launch an app for the first time and feel at home. That effect seems much easier to achieve in an app as compared to a mobile website. Applications tend to follow certain conventions that people have gotten accustomed to over the years, making way for a pleasant "look and feel" and an intuitive mobile experience. They fill up the whole screen without the browser's navigation bar and buttons cluttering the view and support natural transitions without the need to visibly reload between pages. Apps can also access native functions such as the camera, microphone, or files faster than the browser, making way for a seamless experience that takes advantage of smartphones' capabilities.

Mobile app speed

Apps tend to work faster than mobile websites and for more than one reason. For starters, most data that an application needs to launch is stored locally on the user's device. This allows it to start quicker than a mobile website, which in most cases needs data from an external server to show up in the user's browser. There are also technological reasons – the frameworks used for mobile apps work faster than JavaScript, which is primarily responsible for what happens on websites.

Some designers see speed as an afterthought, striving to dazzle the audience with gorgeous graphic effects but ignoring their impact on efficiency. Animated microinteractions and high-quality images can make your app stand out from the crowd, but it's important to remember about proper optimization. Speed matters for pretty much everyone – some people may not realize it, but subconsciously, they prefer fast-loading solutions to those that keep them waiting. Research shows that even one second of delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions. Almost 50% of users would wait less than 10 seconds before simply leaving the website – perhaps never to come back. Your content is on a tight timeline every time a user wants to see it – and having a significant local memory headstart, as in the case of apps, helps a lot.

Turning your brand into the default solution

Increased control over your app means that you're also freer to dictate what it will look like. The relationship between an app and its user is more direct than in the case of websites. An intermediary (the browser) is necessary for the customer to access the content they're looking for or interact with your brand. An app, usually in the form of your logo, is directly accessible from the user's main screen, which means that consumers are regularly exposed to your brand. It's kind of as if you could hang your company's posters in your customers' bedrooms – except they stare at their smartphones much more than at their walls.

Downloading a brand's app also means commitment. If a consumer installs your application, and not that of your competitor's, you may well become their default choice in your product category. Your brand will always be at your app's user's fingertips – literally.

Optimized mobile checkout

Checkout is another step where increased control over how it works, down to the tiniest details, can prove crucial for improving conversion rates. 22% of abandoned carts are caused by usability issues. If a customer wants the product and is ready to buy it at your preferred price but fails to purchase because of a design issue… Well, there is a problem – an easily quantifiable problem that makes your company lose money.

Data shows that simplifying the checkout process can have a significant impact on conversion rates. Even easy visual tricks such as collapsing the coupon field or hiding some icons can increase revenue per visitor by up to 8%. Users are easily distracted, and every distraction draws them further away from finalizing the purchase. The browser interface is a significant part of the user's screen when they're at your mobile website and one that you cannot control. You can get rid of it, though – by convinving your users to move away from the web and straight into your mobile application.

Things you just cannot do without an app

It is indeed easier to optimize user experience in an app than for a mobile website. Some might argue that the browser interface is no obstacle for users and that sufficiently proficient frontend developers can create a mobile website that mimics an app's performance. Still, there are also technological barriers that simply cannot be overcome by the mobile web, at least not yet. Browsers do not support some valuable features at all, which means that if you want to offer them to your customers, you have to develop an application – there is no other way.

NFC store interactions

NFC, or Near-Field Communication, allows electronic devices to communicate on a short distance. The most well-known application of this technology is contactless payment services, where a smartphone interacts with a terminal to authorize a transaction, thus allowing its owner to make purchases without carrying the physical card. However, it's far from being the only thing that Near-Field Communication is capable of. The exciting part is that you don't need any advanced, online-enabled device to interact with a smartphone. You can always use NFC tags, which are small, cheap, and store enough data to be able to send a string of actionable instructions to a phone that comes near it.

82% of smartphone users admit that they consult their phones before deciding to purchase at a physical store. Likewise, 69% of in-store shoppers prefer researching products online to asking a store associate for help. 53% would rather look for promotions online than ask an employee for information. Facts like these make NFC look even more promising. You can use it to personalize your customers' shopping experience and allow them to interact with various elements of your offering. After all, most consumers have their smartphones ready even before you encourage them to pull them out.

But what are those mysterious interactions? Can you use NFC to bring value to your customers and improve their overall experience at your stores or when interacting with your brand in other places? It turns out that there are many exciting ideas for applying the technology in different subtypes of retail. Businesses often limit themselves to getting their NFC tags to launch a website on a user's smartphone. It's an interesting way to start out, and it does not require you to have an app. However, more innovative and complex ideas do.

The concept consists of programming NFC tags to trigger specific actions within your app and placing them in hangtags, showrooms, signage, or even in products themselves. Some ideas for interactions are fairly straightforward, for instance, you can present users with additional information about a product – how it was made, its main ingredients, maybe even an unboxing video. You could also display a product page that allows shoppers to order the item and have it shipped straight to their house or invite people to get in touch with an associate in case they have any questions.

You can even use NFC tags to authorize your products' authenticity or allow customers to identify themselves as members of your loyalty program without even turning on their smartphone screens. Numerous brands have already implemented NFC solutions in their marketing efforts to provide consumers with unique, memorable experiences. For example, Nike partnered with NBA to release basketball jerseys with NFC-enabled labels. By tapping them with their smartphones, their owners could access premium NBA content in the NikeConnect app, which was only available for the duration of that special promotional action. You don't have to stick to basic tricks based on tags, though. Some companies are using NFC to bring real value to their customers: BMW has launched the first NFC-enabled digital car key, which allows owners to lock, unlock, and ever start their cars with their iPhones.

At this point, the possibilities seem endless – after all, there are so many actions that you can program an NFC tag to trigger, not to mention more complex tech solutions like that implemented by BMW. You can either try an existing strategy or develop an original idea for energizing your customers and combining the physical store or product and the smartphone into one seamless experience.

You may now be wondering why you should opt for NFC and not some other technology that the mobile web supports, for instance, QR codes or Bluetooth beacons. Well, you're free to make your own choice, but so are consumers. According to research, people tested in five in-store retail scenarios preferred using NFC 2 to 1 over QR codes and up to 8 to 1 over Bluetooth beacons.

Would you like to know more about how our smartphones can interact with the world around us? We'll do our best not to keep you waiting – this subject will be featured more in-depth in one of the incoming articles of the Investing in Mobile series.

Social features based on user's contacts

Do you want to enable your users to chat with each other? Or maybe look up their friends' profiles based on their phone numbers? How about introducing competitions and rankings where your customers could compare their standing with people from their personal networks? Well, if you want to introduce social networking based on phone numbers into your brand's digital offering, you need an application. Mobile websites cannot access the contacts stored on one's phone. If you make your users add everyone manually and give them no way of checking which of their friends are already on your platform, you'll be doing yourself a great disservice.

Precise targeting with geofencing and proximity sensors

71% of consumers show some level of frustration when their buying experience is impersonal. Thus, it comes as no surprise that 62% of respondents wanted companies to prioritize personalization in 2020 as much as they had the previous year. It seems that despite widely discussed security and privacy concerns, consumers still like receiving personalized content. How can your business satisfy that preference and customize its offering?

One good bet is geofencing – a technology that allows businesses to send a specific communication to a user's smartphone as soon as they enter a designated area, for instance, when they pass by your shop or approach a particular aisle. Most customers will surely enjoy it if you send them a hyper-local deal such as a discount coupon for a place they're right next to. They may also appreciate it if you let them know any location-specific news, such as any recent changes to your opening hours. As you may have already guessed, geofencing is not supported by mobile websites, so if you want to personalize your users' experience with this proximity solution, better start thinking about an app for your brand.

Does hyper-personalization sound like an exciting theme to explore? To us, it does, so stay tuned for an incoming article about mobile apps as a customer communication center! We'll explore how you can drive conversions by reaching out to your users in the right place and at the right time.

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Agnieszka Twardosz

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