Blog Post

Smartphone owners turn to retail mobile websites over mobile apps

While the debate over native apps versus mobile websites rages on, new data from Nielsen suggests that the top retailers got better reach from their mobile websites during the holidays than through their native mobile apps. Based on metering of 5,000 smartphone phones, five of the top retailers — Amazon (s amzn), Best Buy (s bby), eBay (s ebay), Target (s tgt) and Walmart (wmt) — found that smartphone users during the holidays preferred their mobile retail sites 51 percent to 28 percent for native apps, according to Nielsen.

The numbers show that even as many retailers push users to download dedicated mobile apps, many users are turning more to mobile websites. That’s been the case over the last several months and doesn’t appear likely to change soon. Nielsen found that men are slightly more likely to use a retailers’ mobile apps than women. Among mobile websites, women make up a much bigger percentage of visitors to Target and Walmart while Amazon and eBay are more evenly split. Best Buy skews male for mobile web users. While users seem to prefer mobile websites, consumers who visit retailers’ mobile apps spend more time on them, said Nielsen.

Retailers, said Nielsen, should promote a “multi-channel environment” that works across mobile, online, and physical retail stores. They need to create a consistent experience across all channels that reinforces the brand’s values.

I think the retailers should continue to put out mobile apps if they have the resources and a big enough following. Users are spending more minutes in apps than mobile websites and native apps are more powerful than mobile websites though the gap is closing. Flurry found that in December, users were spending 94 minutes a day in apps versus 72 minutes on mobile web sites.

But retailers should also think about bolstering their website for mobile usage. Many users are coming in from links via email or social media or just typing in a URL. These users want to shop or research and don’t necessarily want to download an app at that moment. Having a robust mobile website is good for meeting that demand and allows publishers to take advantage of web traffic and SEO better than they can through native apps. Ultimately, the sites will continue to get better through the maturation of HTML5, which should limit some of the differences native apps and the mobile web. For now, it looks like a native app is key for deeper engagement but the mobile web is important for reach.

5 Responses to “Smartphone owners turn to retail mobile websites over mobile apps”

  1. Mosaic Technology

    I personally prefer to have the option of choosing between an app and mobile web. Not all retailers have the means to have both, but consumer choice is definitely a plus. I prefer to use a mobile app for stores I use frequently, whereas I would prefer a mobile website for a retailer I seldom use.

    Mosaic Technology

  2. Sujay Maheshwari

    Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for writing this. Imagine your desktop/ laptop without a browser and for every single application you have to download an “exe”. Same thing is happening with the “apps” business right now in the mobile world. We had MSN messenger, Yahoo Messenger, AOL .. but then Google said, wait a min. Why not build the chat in the browser. And Whola!

    HTML5 and browser is the way to go onto Mobile as well. Hope marketers/ businesses get this quickly, so that we stop reading calls to actions like : “Download our App to know more about us ..” :) [Hello, I am already in your store, seen your website]

  3. Daniel Mbure

    I don’t think the apps will win because the proliferation of apps means your phone becomes completely cluttered with apps from every retailer. I mean, if all I want to do is check out some prices, I won’t download an app for that only for that app to sit on my phone’s memory with no further use. I believe the net is and always will be the best development standard and that everything else is just a money-making fad created by Apple to mint money. The Internet offers the best opportunities all round and even Apple know this and that is why they are looking for ways to leverage HTML5. My final take, apps will be there only as alternatives to the Internet, not the Internet an alternative to apps. That said, I have less than 20 apps on my phone and I hope to keep it that way, for sanity’s sake!

  4. John S. Wilson

    Great article. I think that mobile apps can still provide better functionality than mobile websites if designed right and marketed well. It’s still much easier to head to a mobile site because so many stores aren’t putting much into their apps.