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.