Should online retailers have mobile-friendly website or mobile app?

This is new reality: people spend more time on mobile than on desktop today and in mobile they spend significantly (6.5x) more time in apps than in mobile browsers (data from comScore report, via Marketing Land). This is US data, but the situation is similar in Australia according Nielsen’s report (see references section for links to the reports).

The question: should online retailers build mobile app, mobile website or both?

Mobile app with mobile web

For the start to think about how to answer this question I would suggest to watch the video prepared by Rand Fishkin from MOZ (check reference #3). It isn’t eCommerce/online retail specific, but a good starting point.

Highlights from video regarding situation with mobile apps are below

  1. Mobile friendly website is must have, app is a possible option
  2. Mobile users indeed spend much more time in apps than in mobile web, however lion’s share of this time is spent within 25-50 top apps; some data shows that 5 apps responsible for 80-90% of time spent (think about Facebook, Youtube, Angry Birds, etc). So it is like “winner takes it all” game.
  3. It is much easier to get people visit your mobile-friendly website than to install an app
  4. The retention rate for mobile apps is awful: in average 9 out of 10 apps are never opened again in 90 days
  5. There is a possibility of significant shift in game rules if Google starts to present mobile apps content in search results an gives it preferred treatment

Should online retailers build mobile app?

We suggest to go through this short check-list

  1. Is your eCommerce business in Loyalty or at least Hybrid mode? Check this article to find out what are the modes.
  2. Can you build an app that provide substantial additional value (features, functionality) for your customers over mobile website?
  3. Do you have good chances to crack retention challenge?
  4. Do you have resources (human and financial) to support the app and keep it at least in par (in terms of user experience) with market leaders?

If you answer yes on all these questions, you should probably dive in  and develop mobile app, otherwise good, mobile friendly website will suffice.


  1. Apps Eat Digital Media Time, With Top 3 Capturing 80 Percent
  2. IAB/Nielsen mobile panel pilot data reveals 52% of digital screen time now spent on mobile devices
  3. Mobile Web vs Mobile Apps: Where Should You Invest Your Marketing? – Whiteboard Friday

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