Mobile apps vs. mobile Web: Do you have to choose?

There have been countless debates about the demise of the mobile Web at the hands of mobile applications. Who is winning? No one can agree.

One pundit sees apps dominating users’ attention. Another predicts apps will kill off the entire Web. As the saying goes, “Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”

The reality is neither solution will go away, and it is a mistake to pit one against the other. 

The truth is both serve a useful purpose, and both have limitations in terms of meeting the needs of users in any given context.

Let us consider some key facts.

Biggest brands have it made
Mobile apps represent a small fraction of the total mobile revenue for all but a handful of the biggest brands.

Amazon has more app revenue than mobile Web revenue. Walmart is getting close to parity. Most are not even close. Why?

Benedict Evans summed it up most succinctly: “Do people want to put your icon on their home screen?” The answer for most brands is “no.”

Does this mean retailers should not create native mobile apps? Absolutely not. But the goals are different.

Apps are for retailers’ most loyal customers by definition – who else will download your app?

So instead of a generic shopping app, consider a VIP program for your best customers, delivered through an app. This will not only drive more revenue from these customers, it will also make their experience better.

Nordstrom, for example, targets its most loyal customers via a mobile app that delivers store notifications and promotions based on where those shoppers happen to be.

Nordstrom customers can also see real-time inventory of stores closest to them.

Another example is Dick’s Sporting Goods. The company has focused its efforts on its iPhone app as a digital hub for the company’s Scorecard rewards program. It targets special promotions for its most loyal, active customers.

The apps versus mobile browser discussion is really about audience segmentation and user behavior patterns.

While apps are ideal for nurturing loyalty, the mobile Web is preferred for convenience and reach.

A recent Forrester Research report shows shoppers prefer to buy from mobile sites while on the go.