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The app versus website dilemma

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By Prabhakar Jayakumar

In 2015, fashion e-commerce giant Myntra shut down its desktop website to become an app-only store. This bold and unprecedented move came when rising smartphone adoption was becoming a gamechanger for the e-commerce industry. Myntra’s announcement triggered a huge debate on the potential success or failure of this move. The sceptics were ultimately right. Less than a year later, a drop in conversions and engagement forced the company to relaunch its mobile website. The desktop website followed some months later.

Now consider the current situation of uncertainties across the world. The pandemic has driven a large share of the world’s operations from the physical to the virtual realms. Companies are driving business continuity via the cloud. Leading brands like Apple that have initiated philanthropic activities such as providing information to people about the pandemic are launching both a website and mobile application. Large enterprises in the business-to-consumer (B2C) ecosystem largely invest in both a website and an app. What’s interesting is that at a time when smartphone usage is seeing a drastic surge, the Gartner CMO Spend Survey 2019-2020 reveals that chief marketing officers (CMOs) of business-to-business (B2B) firms will invest the largest portion, 11.6 per cent, of their budget to building websites this year.

Surprisingly, these statistics seem to slightly contradict trends that indicate an increasing surge in smartphone usage. While the number of smartphone users continues to increase, marketers cannot use a cookie cutter formula to decide on implementing an app-only, website-only or app-and-website channel approach. Each channel has unique benefits and thus each brand must decide based on customer journeys and available budgets. Here we break down some of the pros and cons of websites and mobile apps:

Why websites are still necessary
In a survey conducted by Google, it was revealed that nearly 70 percent of consumers are more likely to buy from a business that has a website over one that does not. In today’s digital ecosystem, websites offer a quick solution to address a brand’s need for digital identity. These demand considerably less investment of time and resources, and unlike applications, websites cannot be deleted from a mobile phone or computer. To get started, all that brands need are a domain name, web hosting and a content management system. Also, creating a desktop website that is also responsive on mobile phones is fairly straight-forward these days.

On the other hand, websites are not suited for personalization since they are not designed for regular use. Also, the way a website renders on a mobile phone is quite different from the way it displays on a desktop or laptop screen. It is impossible for mobile websites to fit all information into a single page, as it leads to greater loading time and hampers user experience. Such challenges can be mitigated with mobile apps that need minimal loading time and a part of their functionality can also work in offline mode in the absence of internet connectivity.

How mobile apps can make a difference
Mobile apps are specifically designed for regular use and provide an enhanced user experience. Apps load content faster and allow users to sift through it seamlessly. Additionally, these enable push notifications, thereby allowing brands to easily and clearly target specific audiences. Apps can also store user information and allow businesses to tailor content specifically for individual users or defined user groups. This allows brands to market themselves more effectively. Unlike websites, which are primarily built for desktop and adapted for mobile, apps are specifically designed for mobile devices. Because of this, apps can use native mobile features such as cameras, gyroscopes, and location features to enhance available functions. Businesses can leverage the data from these functions to enhance content.

However, apps come with a set of challenges too. Unlike websites, which can be accessed across multiple mobile devices uniformly, apps may not exhibit the same level of compatibility. In most cases, every operating system – be it iOS, Android, or Windows – needs a different version of the app. Even in the case of cross-platform solutions, not all features may be fully supported. Mobile apps require considerably more time and resources since these need to be regularly updated and approved by app markets. Apps also need to be reviewed and tested periodically to remove any glitches. As mentioned, mobile apps are not available for immediate use, unlike mobile websites, which can simply be accessed through a web link and an Internet browser. Apps, on the other hand, need to be downloaded from app markets and may or may not function across devices.

What should startups invest in?
In the current ecosystem of uncertainties, startups need to stay connected with existing and potential customers via the digital realm. Travel restrictions and the lack of in-person meetings can be compensated by investing in cloud infrastructure to optimize remote working and communication. At a time, when large companies are grappling with business continuity, it is crucial for startups to showcase competitive differentiation by driving awareness and engagement through digital marketing channels such as websites, mobile applications, social media channels and more.

The choice between building a website or a mobile app presents a dilemma, particularly for startups, since they are constricted by limited budgets and human resources. Websites offer many advantages to startups—these are cost-effective, easy to setup and maintain, and key to building credibility. While apps undoubtedly offer several advantages, these also demand heavy investments in time, labor and money. Moreover, most users typically refrain from downloading apps unless they have a compelling reason to do so. Studies also indicate that about 96 percent of a mobile phone user’s time is spent on just ten apps. This implies that startups, which have limited resources and time, will face great challenges in making apps rank among the ‘top 10’ on a customer’s mobile phone. Instead, creating a responsive web app would be a good starting point for most startups.

Today, the web has become an integral part of our daily lives and companies—both big and small—will have to invest more in building a credible web marketing strategy. Both smartphones and desktops are important devices that brands need to target. While all companies should certainly have a responsive web app, larger companies may have the leeway to also develop a native app right at the beginning.

(The author is the Country Director, India – DigitalOcean)

If you have an interesting article / experience / case study to share, please get in touch with us at [email protected]


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