Key insights from the ‘Mobile App vs Mobile Web’ webinar

Last week, a panel of ecommerce and mobile experts joined together for a webinar to discuss key topics surrounding the mobile app vs mobile web debate.

Drawing on experience from Google, M&S, Groupon, Majestic Wines and more, they tackled four highly relevant questions and gave their insights and predictions.

The webinar recording is available on-demand, and below is a summary of the key points covered in each question throughout the discussion.

This webinar was produced in association with Bijou Commerce.

How have attitudes about mobile changed in the retail industry over the last few years?

The theme that emerged here was that there is growing excitement and opportunity around mobile, but also a lack of urgency amongst retailers to make the change.

Benjy Meyer, founder of VenueScanner and former Head of Digital at M&S, said of changing attitudes: “I’d say [they are] probably still very slow. There’s been a lot of change but in retail organizations there’s so much more potential.”

He talked about the ‘find’ and ‘discovery’ missions as the two types of shopping experience retailers need to crack, saying:

“Most retailers have got a long way to go to catch up with Amazon on that ‘find’ mission, and nearly all retailers have got a long way to go on the discovery mission.”

Sam Carter, Director of Marketing and Sales at Fospha, talked about his experience at Groupon:

“I think there’s a lot of excitement – both from a customer and from a channel perspective.”

“Certainly from a Groupon perspective, to offset some of the challenges everyone is experiencing with the performance of the email channel (a very important channel for Groupon), the emergence of push notifications and its power was very appealing. There was also a sense of nervousness, of not wanting to make some of the same mistakes made with email marketing.”

Lionel Mora, Product Marketing Manager of Mobile Acceleration (EMEA) at Google, discussed how there may be a perception problem around mobile as an opportunity:

“A couple of years ago, we were thinking about mobile as ‘not really converting’ and ‘not really working for retailers’, but what we see now is that it is converting, and a lot of the growth is actually coming from mobile.”

“At Google a lot of our clients and partners are seeing huge numbers coming from mobile.”

He concluded by saying:

“Right now the opportunity is here, there is no question about it. If you keep thinking about desktop, designing for desktop, and not improving the mobile experience, you’re missing a big opportunity as a retailer.”

How does consumer behavior differ on a mobile app compared to mobile web?

Mora revealed some key findings from a new study by Google and Ipsos that sought to answer this very question.

“What the research confirms is that people actually prefer to use a mobile site for browsing activities… Whereas apps are much preferred for direct actions.”

“One of the big findings from the research is that we see a huge perception gap between mobile sites and apps when it comes to content. For retail specifically, people think that there is less information within the app than there is on the website, and this is driving a change in behavior.”

“Once you know there is a perception gap you can start changing – it can start having an impact on your acquisition, you can start shaping your messaging a little bit different and you can start focusing on having exclusive content or more content within the app.”

Benjy Meyer explained the different types of users in an app compared to web:

“Mobile app is going to tend to have your more loyal customers using it, and as a result you’ll be seeing higher frequency and higher average order value in-app than in mobile web.”

He also advised: “That migration of users from mobile web to mobile app ought to be something that you can use in order to drive the loyalty of your less loyal customers.”

Have apps won the battle for attention over mobile web?

“The important thing is thinking about the role that each one plays in the specific customer’s’ journey,” explained Sam Carter.

“They might not always be complementary, but they should be, and that should be part of your strategy. At Groupon we never really saw it as a battle between channels; we always looked at our mobile web and app and considered that to be our ‘mobile-combined’.

“The more important thing was that we understood the interactions between the channels and how the journey progressed.”

Lionel Mora agreed, saying: “I think looking at apps versus mobile web unfortunately is not helping things. It’s still moving a lot and still quite complicated… we need to think about it more as a complementary combination.”

“If you have an app today, the question is ‘How do you leverage it?’ – and how do you make sure that it has the maximum impact on your business and your revenue?”

Meyer favored apps for everyday sites, but reiterated the notion of a complementary combination, saying:

“If I need something on a regular basis, the app is always going to win for me. I feel like I get a better experience if I’m in the app than on the web, typically.”

“There are various bits of functionality which I think are only really app-doable, so they are examples where an app would add more value than mobile web on its own. But ultimately, I can’t really think of a retailer or a brand that only has very loyal customers, so on that basis you’re going to need a bit of both.”

Moderator Olly Cooper summarized the overall consensus of the panel: “there’s not really a battle to be won.”

Will Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) be complementary or threatening to mobile web or apps?

Progressive web apps are a relatively new technology, combining the convenience of the web with the usability of an app. They are attracting attention because of their ability to send push notifications and enable offline browsing, among many other features.

However, these features are completely dependent on the browser itself. Without support from Apple’s iOS, for example, any PWA on Safari has very little to offer – making the future uncertain.

The panel expressed excitement for progressive web apps, but acknowledged that there is a way to go on functionality.

“I think at the moment it’s probably complementary to apps,” said Mora. “It’s making huge progress already… If at some point they are equivalent or even better than apps, then the debate is almost over.”

Carter reiterated that everything should be complementary, saying: “60% of customers start on one channel and go to another… and it’s therefore just important that retailers are winning on the channels they are investing in.”

He added: “It sounds like there’s a long road to go on the functionality which is exciting.”

Meyer discussed building a hybrid app during his time at M&S, and said that although there’s some work to do to prove things, “I can very clearly articulate that if we had PWAs back in that time then we would absolutely have been employing the technology – it sounds really promising.”

An interesting observation from Meyer was that “most consumers don’t know if they’re in an app or on mobile web”.

“If you think about it, in the world of the user, they just want more and better functionality, so we need to all find the technology to help them do that.”

His conclusion was that, “It sounds to me like a no-brainer for pure-play retailers, possibly a little bit harder for the true multichannel retailers –  and I’m only really saying that because I think there’s a bit more to be proven in terms of microlocation, knowing where I am in a store etc.”

However, his parting comment on PWAs highlighted a big potential flaw:

“There’s just one fundamental thing for me which is playing a little bit on my mind, which is when a user gets a new phone, the [progressive web] app will not automatically download to their screen like a regular app would. I think that really needs to be cracked, because otherwise the retailer will have spent however many months and pounds onboarding a user to then lose them just because they went and bought a new phone as part of their annual upgrade.”

For more insights into the various strengths and weaknesses of mobile apps and mobile websites for ecommerce, watch the on-demand recording of the webinar.  

This webinar was produced in association with Bijou Commerce. Click here to read our collaborative content guidelines. Views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of ClickZ.

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