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Mobile Website vs. App - What's best for your e-commerce business?

September 7 2021

One of the most common dilemmas e-Commerce businesses have to address today is whether they should opt for mobile-optimised websites or develop apps for their stores. This issue has become even more relevant as the state of affairs has been disrupted by the COVID pandemic. 

According to a report published by Digital Commerce 360, U.S.e-Commerce sales went up 44% in 2020, compared to the previous year, forcing a large number of retailers into bankruptcy. While this may sound like great news for online stores, failing to provide a high-quality user experience can and will be problematic for attracting and retaining customers. As a result, this will likely concentrate this surge in demand among the businesses that have invested time and effort into UX. 

Apps and mobile sites have different advantages and shortcomings. To ensure customer satisfaction, online stores should analyse a wide array of factors when choosing between the two. And this is precisely what we’ll do in today’s article.

Let’s dive right in, shall we? 


Do e-Commerce businesses need apps? 

User and customer experience is what drives e-Commerce success. To be able to compete in the modern business ecosystem, online stores need to invest into a seamless and intuitive interaction with their marketplaces. 

But the critical question here is, “what constitutes a good user experience for shoppers?”. Unfortunately, the answer here is — “it depends.” 

Apps do have certain advantages over mobile sites. However, smaller businesses may fail to reap these benefits due to the friction apps impose on users.

Downloading and installing a product on a mobile device can dissuade potential customers from making purchases with a small store that has no significant reputation. This is why app development is a safer route for established businesses, whereas smaller stores should invest in a well-optimised mobile site.

On the other hand, it’s important to point out that downloading and installing an app implies greater commitment compared to visiting a mobile site. This means that customers will probably be more inclined to make purchases using it once it’s there. 

Another essential factor e-Commerce stores should take into account is their customers’ average age. A study published by Pew Research indicates that only 68% of US Baby Boomers (ages 55 to 73) and 40% of the Silent Generation (74 to 91) own smartphones, which will prevent a significant percentage of this market from downloading apps. 

Furthermore, simply owning a smartphone does not warrant proficiency. Seniors might find installing and using an app somewhat challenging or simply too big of a hassle just to buy something. Therefore, marketplaces that cater to consumers within these age gaps should probably focus on mobile sites. 

However, it’s important to underline that basing your decision just on your business’s size and buyer persona can be somewhat reductive. Let’s take a closer look at some other factors that will guide you towards the right decision. 


The case for mobile sites

To a certain extent, the mobile web has been the status quo for the last seven years or so, since mobile traffic has surpassed desktop in e-Commerce sales. However, that does not necessarily mean that it’s an obsolete way of doing things. 

Arguably, the mobile web still has a lot to offer, given that it still has a lot of space to grow in terms of user experience. In a previous article, we’ve looked into the findings of a study published by the Baymard Institute that has revealed a broad spectrum of usability flaws in m-Commerce. These findings are confirmed by a study published by Wofgang Digital that reports on the devices people use to browse and buy. It seems like users commonly reach stores via mobile but end up making purchases from desktop computers more often.

As a result, it’s safe to say that we’re still yet to see a lot of exciting improvements in mobile shopping prompted by both stores and third parties.  


Search engine optimisation 

One of the third parties that have stimulated positive change in m-Commerce is none other than Google.  

In 2020, Google announced that its algorithm would switch to mobile-first indexing. Essentially, it means that the mobile version of the web page will become the driving criteria for its position in search engine rankings. 

Therefore, investing in your m-Commerce experience and ensuring compliance with Google’s standards will significantly boost your traffic, allowing you to amass more customers and revenue. 



Besides enjoying an inflow of new traffic from search engines, mobile commerce also doesn’t need to differentiate between operational systems. Whether your device uses iOS, Android, or any other platform, customers will be able to comfortably browse your store in either scenario. 

Furthermore, browser-based mobile stores don’t have to build and manage dedicated apps, allowing them to significantly reduce costs. 

Significantly less expensive 

Developing apps for multiple platforms will typically incur significant expenses — both financial and temporal. Investing your money in mobile optimisation will result in higher ROI, given that it’s easier and quicker to make improvements on an existing page. 

The case for native apps 

Apps provide users with a better overall user experience. According to a report published by Dynamic Yield, only 12% of consumers find shopping on the mobile web convenient. 

While, opting for a mobile-optimised website may be a less expensive choice, apps tend to mitigate a variety of reasons for users’ dissatisfaction with mobile commerce. 


Personalised experiences are at the core of excellent UX, and apps are superior in this regard — they often integrate with a variety of device features like camera, contact list, calendar, thus making the app more usable and versatile. 

While mobile sites are by no means impossible to personalise, the spectrum of opportunities is much broader in applications. 

Mobile applications provide for deeper personalisation, since using them implies registering an account. This allows them to leverage a greater amount of demographic data, ensuring a better-tailored customer experience. 

It is important to mention that personalisation based on demographic data is gradually entering obsolescence. While a customer’s age, gender, income, and location might give you a good idea about their preferences, it’s hard to tell if this data is sufficient to create a truly personalised experience. 

This is particularly why we, at Loop54, are strong proponents of behavioural and contextual personalisation — it allows e-Commerce businesses to learn about their customers from their actions, rather than make assumptions about their preferences. 

This type of personalisation allows you to seamlessly adapt navigation and search results to every individual customer’s needs. More importantly, it can be adopted on both apps and mobile sites. 

Offline usability

From a UX perspective, ensuring that your customers can access your store offline is a massive benefit. 

Here’s why:

  • Poor internet connection means slow load time, which results in frustration and excessive user friction;
  • Scenarios where customers can’t access a strong connection are often related to commute or travel, which is often the time when people plan purchases. As an e-Commerce business, allowing your customers to access your store offline and add items to their carts will help you increase conversions and revenue;
  • Offline accessibility allows the app to transcend from being a store on the internet to a place where users can solve their problems at any time. As a result, this extended functionality will lead to increased customer loyalty;

Increased speed 

There is a strong interdependency between conversions and page load time. A slow website can have a detrimental impact on your user experience, SEO efforts, engagement, and many other crucial facets of your e-Commerce venture. 

Generally speaking, users expect page load times of 2 seconds and lower. While apps do not contribute to your overall SEO performance, you can rest assured that users will continue to comfortably use your store even with a mediocre internet connection. 


The bottom line

When it comes to choosing between an e-Commerce app and an optimised mobile site, there is no straightforward answer. More importantly, we believe that there shouldn’t be one. Fundamentally, a business’s decision-making should revolve around its customers — and by doing so, it’ll be able to improve its UX and revenue. 


eCommerce Strategy

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