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How to Improve Mobile eCommerce: Responsive Site versus Native App?

Lisa Mayer • January 11, 2016

Magda Siembab, QA Analyst

The next time you’re on the train to work, take a moment to tear your eyes off of your phone and check out your fellow passengers. About 7 out of 10 of them, according to comScore, are doing the same thing you were – gazing at the screen on their phone.

Yes, 77% of the U.S. population or 192.4 million people have a smartphone. So it’s no wonder then that mobile eCommerce is growing at incredible rates.  Internet Retailer estimates mobile commerce sales for 2015 at $104.05 billion, up 38.7% from $75.03 billion in 2014.

Those numbers are getting the attention of eCommerce merchants. They’re looking hard at how to make the mobile shopping experience more engaging to increase activity and conversion. Another driving force is that search engines favor sites that are mobile-friendly. Anyone remember Mobilegeddon?

Two mobile eCommerce options for brands and retailers stand out: a responsive website or a mobile app.  Let’s learn a bit more about each.

Responsive Website

A responsive web design means the site adjusts automatically to the a visitor’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation of the device they use. Essentially, you design one site using a single code base that adapts to all mobile devices. That includes any devices released in the future.

Design starts with the smallest screen to make sure the site works on all devices. Many companies find developing a responsive site helps them clarify what’s really important when it comes to marketing their business. If you’re looking to redesign your site, going responsive could be a good reason.

Responsive design creates a consistent user experience across all mobile devices. Shoppers appreciate the ability to easily accomplish tasks as they would on a laptop. They’ll spend more time (and money) on your site.

If you’re concerned about time and budget, a responsive site is a good way to start for mobile eCommerce. You can reach more people since its browser-based. The browser use also means site updates are delivered automatically.

Native App

A native app is a program that’s been developed for use on a particular platform or device. This enables it to take advantage of device-specific hardware and software, such as the camera and GPS.

An app (at least a good one) should help a shopper accomplish a specific task that’s valuable to them. Think about airline apps that provide a boarding pass or Walgreen’s prescription refill service.

The downside of developing an app is the number of operating systems and platforms you need to address. Consider these stats for Android devices which represent over 80% of the global smartphone market: there are 18,796 distinct devices running 7 different API levels.*  Maintaining compatibility with every device’s operating system has implications for time, resources and cost.

Shoppers need to actively seek out your app by visiting an online store supported by Apple, Google or Windows, and register to download. Getting listed requires following separate guidelines and approval processes. You’ll have to undertake a major marketing effort to let shoppers know about your app.

Apps offer a more engaging experience for shoppers because they’re interactive. Native apps enable merchants to tailor notices about new products, sales, and discounts to the interest, needs and location of shoppers. Loyalty programs are another way to increase conversions.

Native apps live on the user’s phone. No web connection needed, so they’re always accessible. It also makes them faster.

Which is Best?

When it comes time to figure out how to improve mobile eCommerce, how do you choose what’s best for your business? Do you need a responsive site, a native app, or both? The best advice is to think about your users and how they interact with your business. You have to address customers’ needs or they won’t come back and shop.

One place to start is to look at the frequency of your visitors and how often they make a purchase. Get a feel for usage rates and customer spend. Also take a look at how much traffic comes from mobile.

A native app would work well for your best customers. You want to make shopping frictionless and engaging to keep them buying, over and over again. If you’ve mostly new customers or ones who buy infrequently, developing an app is overkill. A responsive site would offer an optimized experience that meets their needs.

You can always start with a responsive site and continue to monitor your data. With an eye on the future, run a periodic cost/benefit analysis to figure out if investing in an app would change your bottom line for the better.

If you want to learn more about approaches to mobile eCommerce, contact LYONSCG.


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Lisa Mayer

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Lisa Mayer

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