In this article we’ll explain why e-commerce businesses today need their own mobile app.
We’ll look at why a branded mobile app is so impactful, and why creating an app aligns with overall trends in consumer behavior. Finally, we’ll break down the advantages of mobile apps over mobile websites in detail, and explain the positive implications of these benefits for e-commerce retailers.
- Mobile apps are a way to offer a better user experience to mobile shoppers, and also help build a competitive moat and boost retention for brands.
- Smartphones are becoming increasingly dominant in society today, people are spending more time in apps, and mobile shopping is becoming more normalized.
- Apps offer several advantages to consumers, such as greater convenience and a more intuitive UX. While for brands, apps can deliver higher revenue per visit, increased loyalty and a stronger brand image.
Why a Mobile App Is a Game Changer for E-Commerce Businesses
Any e-commerce brand today can benefit from launching their own mobile app.
By building a mobile app, e-commerce businesses will:
- Serve their mobile customers better,
- Create an efficient retention system,
- Build a competitive moat,
- Display powerful trust signals to customers and stakeholders.
On the first point, mobile apps allow brands to offer a better user experience to mobile users. This leads to more revenue and higher sales, and is important with a growing share of consumers who are now mobile-first.
Apps are also a powerful system for loyalty and retention. They self-select the brand’s loyal customers, and remove all friction for them to make repeat purchases.
Apps give brands ownership over their audience, which is a powerful moat for a business. The app itself is a channel that can be used for direct communication, lessening the brand’s reliance on third-party sales channels (e.g. Google, social media and marketplaces).
Finally, building and launching a mobile app is a sign of authority, which elevates the brand’s perception in the eyes of customers, partners, investors and other stakeholders.
Trends Show Consumers Are Gravitating Towards Mobile (and Apps)
It’s important to provide an optimal user experience because of the prevalence of mobile with today’s consumers.
We’re spending more time on mobile and we’re using mobile devices more often for things we used to rely on desktop for - like shopping.
Here are some of the key trends that show why today’s businesses need to be mobile-centric.
A higher percentage of the population use smartphones.
Statista shows that the number of smartphone users is growing by several hundred million every year. More than 85% of the world has a smartphone, a share that is constantly rising.
A growing share of people are smartphone-only.
According to Pew Research, 85% of Americans own a smartphone, while only 77% have a desktop PC or laptop. Experts predict that, by 2025, almost three-quarters of people will only access the internet on smartphones.
People spend more time in apps.
Data.ai intelligence shows that time spent in apps increased in almost all major markets between 2020 and 2022.
Users in India, China, the UK and US spent 5% more time in apps, while users in Singapore spend 40% more time in apps, and Australian users 50% more.
Over 50% of people in the US have made a purchase on mobile.
Mobile shopping has been normalized. Statista shows that over 170 million people in the US have made a purchase on mobile, which equates to over half the population. This number is projected to rise to 187.5 million by 2024.
What Advantages Do Apps Offer Over Mobile Websites?
Most people prefer using apps rather than websites when they go online on mobile devices. But why?
Let’s examine the key advantages that apps (specifically e-commerce apps) offer to users.
A Smoother, Less Distracting UX
Apps are built for mobile users, and you can tell. They utilize the entirety of the screen, they work better with touching and swiping actions, and the entire user experience just works a lot smoother.
Mobile websites are squeezed inside the browser, and don’t always work well with touchscreens. They also have added distractions in browser tabs, which make it a less immersive experience.
Apps work faster, as they’re downloaded and run locally on the user’s device, instead of relying on a connection to a far-off server. Even if the app requires an internet connection, parts can still be run locally, reducing load speed compared to a mobile website.
For today’s consumers, who expect everything to work instantly, this is a big deal.
Streamlined Checkout Process
For e-commerce stores, the checkout process in an app is much simpler. The app can store the user’s information and let them check out in just a few seconds (or integrate with payment apps to do the same), with no need for a user to go through the laborious process of entering their card number and billing information every time.
It’s far easier and quicker for users to get into an app than a mobile website. Just one tap on the app icon and they’re in. To get back to a website, they need to open the browser, type the URL, or search around in their bookmarks, which is too much unnecessary friction.
“People lose attention fast today. On a website, they need to type the URL and it just takes so much time. We were trying to help individuals start shopping for a product much quicker. With an app, it's just a click and then move straight to what they want to see.”
-Haven Prescott, CEO and Creative Director from SYN•DI•CATE explains one of the reasons they launched their own app.
Use of Device Features
Another way apps add to the mobile user experience is through the use of device features, such as the camera, GPS and biometric features. This allows a deeper, more interactive experience that is possible in a mobile website.
Native Push Notifications
Native push notifications are another powerful device feature that apps give access to. Push notifications foster a deeper connection between user and brand, and are powerful for how direct and convenient they are.
Push notifications can be sent from the mobile web too, but they’re far from ideal. Compared to native push notifications from an app, web notifications are clunky, unreliable, and don’t work on all operating systems.
“Push notifications as a communication channel are extremely powerful. It’s the cheapest and most powerful communication channel we have.”
-David Cost from Rainbow Shops on native push notifications.
Personalization for website visitors is becoming more difficult with increased privacy controls and trackers being blocked. Apps can offer a more personalized experience, which is a big plus for today’s users who want to see relevant content, rather than a generic and impersonal experience.
What These Advantages Mean for Brands
A better user experience is a good thing for brands. Every business has a financial incentive to make their customers happy. But let’s be specific, and explain just how the advantages of mobile apps for users translate into benefits for brands/retailers.
Higher Revenue Per Visit
The better user experience means mobile shopping apps have a higher conversion rate and extract more revenue from each visitor.
Apps convert 157% higher on average than mobile websites, and users view 4.2 times more products per session in apps. This gives more opportunities to capture a sale, and more likelihood of converting the sale each time someone visits you in an app rather than a mobile website.
More Impulse Buys
Apps give more opportunity for customers to make impulse buys. When the app is right there, people tend to browse because they’re bored, rather than actively seeking out something to buy.
A report from PayPal Australia supports this theory, with 67% of their respondents admitting to “digital window shopping” on mobile for fun, and 77% making impulse purchases when they do this.
Higher Loyalty & More Repeat Customers
Apps have a built-in retention engine. It allows the store to remain in the customer’s consciousness after their first purchase, instead of disappearing, as happens when a browser tab is closed.
Just the act of downloading the app is an act of loyalty itself, and increases the chance that someone will be a loyal, repeat customer. And more reliable, customizable, personalized push notifications offer a powerful way to re-engage customers and get them shopping again.
Enhanced Brand Image
Offering an app makes a brand look better, more authoritative, and more professional. This comes from the better user experience they offer to mobile users, from the social proof of having an app store presence, and from the perceived investment required to launch a branded app.
An app allows brands to get in the iOS and Android app stores, and get in front of millions more potential customers. It also lets brands reach shoppers who are smartphone-only, or those who prefer to shop in an app. Overall, this amounts to a wider potential customer base, and more revenue potential for stores who have an app.
Stronger Web SEO
Apps also have a positive impact on the authority of a brand’s website. Aside from the indirect effect of increased social proof boosting web conversions, app store listings provide powerful backlinks to the brand’s site, which serve as authority signals to Google and help generate more organic search traffic.
Stronger Business Fundamentals
Apps give brands more control over their audience, less reliance on rented traffic channels, like social media and marketplaces, more reliable insights into their customer behavior, and a direct communication channel with their users.
All of these are important for a strong and stable business. In this sense, launching a branded app makes a business more likely to last a long time, as well as more attractive to potential investors.
Mobile apps offer many benefits to businesses, e-commerce brands in particular.
There’s very little downside to having a mobile app. The only question is whether or not brands have the resources to build an app (and to maintain that app and keep it current and up to date).
In future sections of our Ultimate Guide to Building an E-Commerce App, we’ll establish that this is not as difficult as many brand owners think. We’re going to go over all the specifics you need to know, and show you just how to take advantage of what mobile apps can do for your business.