Introduction

User engagement on mobile websites can be deceiving. Take a look at Amazon: although the retail behemoth had roughly 40 million more mobile web users than app users in 2018, app users accounted for 85% of time spent on mobile devices. While everyone doesn’t prefer to use an app, those who do are clearly more engaged. Why? According to Forrester, mobile app users find the experience faster, more convenient and personalized, and simply more consistent with the way they use their mobile devices.

This preference for mobile apps over mobile websites translates into big business. Mobile app users convert at a rate three times higher than mobile website users and twice that of desktop users. So, while it’s still critical for your retail or service-based company to provide a good web experience, relying solely on a responsive website to engage mobile users means you may be leaving valuable interactions—and money—on the table.

Plus, a website experience makes it easy for the mobile user to become distracted or knocked off course. First, you have to hope that users go directly to your website. If they rely on Google or a bookmark (that they may have accidentally deleted), the user could easily be tempted to click a link to another merchant website or simply navigate away to another tab—meaning not only does the customer lose context, but the merchant likely loses a sale. Once they get to your website, it’s hard to provide a refined brand experience when ads, privacy notices, and other visual clutter get in the way—especially on mobile devices where screen real estate is at a premium. A mobile app, though, allows the user to confidently access your experience and complete their transaction with no distractions.

To meet all customers where they are (or where they want to be)—not to mention increase sales—you need an omnichannel approach to close gaps in your user experience—and that means providing a mobile app in addition to your website.

Responsive websites water down the user experience

Responsive website design comes at a cost: designing to the lowest common denominator often leads to a watered-down user experience. Features that are exclusive to desktop, or iOS devices, or Android devices are off the table. Mobile apps, on the other hand, allow you to fully leverage the device’s capabilities––such as Bluetooth, near-field communication, and the camera––to create a more unique user experience. Functionalities like barcode scanning and geofencing work more seamlessly for users on mobile apps, and they’re easier to build.

Plus, it doesn’t matter how feature-rich a mobile website is if the user isn’t connected to the internet. Some of the features in a mobile app can still work in offline mode, so users can access loyalty information, coupons, planograms, and so on, even when they have a bad signal.

A responsive website doesn’t just limit what users can do, it also limits how they do it. When you design to the lowest common denominator, you have to consider both touch and mouse interactions. That makes for a clunky, non-intuitive user interface in at least one or possibly all environments. With a mobile app, users can swipe, pinch, tap, and drag, all while using the device-specific gestures that they’re familiar with and a layout that mirrors other apps on their phone.

For example, on iOS, the main tab navigation is located at the bottom of the screen, with a maximum of five tabs. In Android apps, navigational controls are more spread out, and users are more familiar with using the hamburger menu, search bar, and floating action buttons to navigate. Being able to design to these device-level specifications enables users to quickly and easily access the full range of features your app offers in a manner consistent with what they are used to.

Mobile apps enhance the in-store experience

An easy-to-use, feature-rich mobile app can make the in-store shopping experience better, too. Since the pandemic began, for example, curbside pickup service has never been more popular (or necessary), and mobile apps can make that experience simpler and more enjoyable. Instead of users having to pull up order details on a website or from an email, or even calling to notify the store that they’ve arrived, the mobile app can track the user’s location in the background, even if the app is closed. With that information, the retailer can prioritize orders based on a customer’s expected arrival time—ensuring customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.

Being able to track a user’s location in the background also enables geofencing to make a more personalized and relevant experience. The mobile app can:

● Trigger notifications alert customers to barcode scanning as an alternative to looking for a price scanner.

● Give customers access to information (such as veterinary hours for a pet store) that they would normally have to look up.

● Enable white glove customer service by alerting staff when a customer enters the store so they can greet them by name.

● Serve up store maps that show the aisle numbers for recently viewed items.

And when a customer’s ready to check out, a mobile app can make that process easier too. The customer can pay using payment information stored inside the app, never having to reach into their wallet and go through the credit card or cash payment process. In some cases, they can even bypass the checkout counter altogether and complete the self-checkout process from the app. A mobile website cannot.

Mobile apps are a more powerful marketing engine than mobile websites

Mobile apps enable you to capture an abundance of customer information––from their location to the type of device they use––that allows you to build a more well-rounded profile of your customer. Knowing your customer well means you can market to them more effectively. For example, if a user upgrades their device every year, you can infer that they have higher disposable income, and are more likely to buy higher-ticket items.

Combining that user data with push notifications can boost user engagement in ways email and SMS simply can’t. When an agency compared its clients' email open rates to open rates for push notifications, there was no contest. Email open rates averaged 2.1%, while the rate for push notifications was 10 times higher.

Ninety-one percent of mobile shoppers find push notifications to be useful––as long as they are relevant and offer value. They cite promotion alerts, new product announcements, recommendations, and price reductions on products they’re following as among the most useful notifications they receive. With the app gathering real-time data on the customer, you can send out timely, relevant push notifications, which users see instantly, not just when they get around to checking their email.

Using a mobile app can also increase engagement with loyalty programs. Store personnel can scan a barcode or QR code generated within the app that contains customer loyalty information—no need to swipe a card or enter a loyalty ID number. The customer can see how many purchases they’ve made and how close they are to earning a reward, which gamifies the experience in a way and makes it more appealing for users to keep coming back.

Convenience, ease, and personalization translate to higher revenue

While every business needs a polished website experience—especially e-commerce retailers—also investing in a mobile app pays off. Looking at the numbers for retail alone, mobile app users are more engaged and buy more than those using a mobile site:

● Customers are twice as likely to return to an e-commerce app within 30 days when compared to mobile website users.

● The average order value for mobile app purchases is 140 percent higher than mobile sites and 130 percent higher than desktop.

● Forty percent of a brand’s users buy more products when they download an e-commerce app, and 46 percent visit the store more often.

● Mobile app users view 4.2 times more products per session when compared to mobile web users.

In many ways, mobile app users behave similarly to in-store shoppers. Retailers are in a constant battle to reduce the cannibalization of in-store sales. While cannibalization doesn't lead to revenue decline, it does lead to profit decline. Mobile apps enable retailers to recapture some of that profit.

“Coding once” for a responsive website sounds efficient, but is it really?

Finally, it’s tempting to listen to the argument that it’s faster and more cost-effective to create a responsive website because you can “code it once” and move on to the next project. However, it’s impossible to harness all of the marketing, sales, and engagement perks of mobile interactions that way. And as we’ve seen, it forces many of your most valuable customers into a subpar experience.

So, is it really more efficient to “code once” when that code can’t accommodate the most powerful and effective features of mobile devices? Not a chance. While you’ll always need to provide a good website experience for desktop users, if you aren’t also giving mobile users the native experience they crave on their phones and tablets, you’re losing out on capabilities that drive conversions and build lasting customer loyalty.

Want to learn how to create a high-performing mobile app? Watch our on-demand webinar, Tapping Into Mobile Apps For More Profitable Revenue, to learn how to build a competitive app that drives engagement and higher conversions. And if you need help getting your mobile app to market more quickly, contact us to see how JBS Solutions can help.

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