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Cracking the mobile code

Should you go mobile first or mobile only? Is it a good idea to jettison the website altogether? Here are the answers to questions bothering e-commerce bosses

Ankita Rai 

With the Big App Shopping sale in March this year, Flipkart bid adieu to its mobile website. Fashion major Myntra, which has already shut down its mobile website, is contemplating ditching the browser-based shopping altogether. Having an app is not just de rigueur now, e-commerce firms are actively pushing consumers to their apps and encouraging them to buy through them with attractive discounts and deals. From Amazon's Appiness Day in November 2014 to Myntra's Binge Weekend Sale and Snapdeal's App Fest in February, it's raining offers on mobile apps.

"For a large percentage of Indians, the mobile phone is either the only or the primary gateway to the internet. While retailers in the West are still seeing more of a multi-screen (desktop, tablet and smartphones) customer journey, we are fast evolving to the single-screen journey," says Suryadeep Agrawal, senior product manager, Adobe marketing cloud, Adobe. (See Expert Take on Page 4)

A large chunk of the e-retailers The Strategist spoke to say the shift to mobile app is aimed at creating focused marketing, thus reducing unnecessary expenses and providing best-in-class consumer experience. However, there are a number of considerations to take into account before committing investment to either a mobile website or an app.

Says Rajiv Srivatsa, founder and chief operating officer, Urban Ladder, "There is a business reason behind promoting apps. It leads to higher conversion and engagement. If you build only an app platform, it is cheaper as you don't have to invest in two-sets of codes - both mobile website and app. However, in the long run, one has to engage the user enough, so she doesn't uninstall the app."

Experience is key
Though apps are fast becoming the desired way for e-commerce players to interact with consumers, merchants do understand that it is neither easy nor advisable to force their customers to go down that route. According to a study conducted by ICM Research in the UK, a majority of the customers prefer to interact with retailers through their mobile websites and only download an app if they are incentivised to do so or if they are regular shoppers. However, the same consumers are far more likely to complete transactions through the retailers' mobile app than through the mobile website. While this study was conducted in only one market, it clearly highlights a key trend: it is the consumer who wants the prerogative to decide how and when she wants to use her smartphone to shop.

Going app-only make sense only if you can provide great experience, which is otherwise not possible on the mobile web platform, says Shamik Sharma, chief product and technology officer, Myntra. Currently, Myntra gets more than 90 per cent of its traffic and over 70 per cent of its revenues from its app platform. "More than half of our traffic comes from tier-II and tier-III cities now as apps work better in 2G connections. It is much easier to promote apps in smaller cities and places with low bandwidth connection," Sharma adds.

There are crucial differences in the way mobile websites and mobile apps allow customers to navigate and experience the shopping journey. "Although a mobile app functions a lot like a mobile website, it has certain operational and functional benefits over a mobile website. It gives businesses the advantage of having their own corner on a customer's device. Because users have to download and install the app, businesses have more control over their presence on a device. For instance, a mobile app can be closed or inactive, but it will still work in the background to send geo­targeted push notifications and gather data about the customer's preferences and behaviour. Moreover, mobile apps make it easy to deploy loyalty programmes and offer a payment facility using a single platform," explains Suhale Kapoor, co­founder and EVP, Absolutdata Analytics.

Simply put, unlike mobile websites, apps offer a customised experience because they work better in the background and allow e-retailers to collect user-specific data such as recurring purchases, duration of browsing, preferred platform to share information and so on.

"For example, if a consumer shares her location using an app, we can ensure that the delivery boy is able to locate her easily without calling her.

The same holds true for the customer as she can track her parcel real time," says Sharma of Myntra.

Indeed, visiting a marketplace through an app is much faster than loading a website on the mobile browser. "When a customer downloads an app, the brand can do the following to improve the shopping experience: show more images per product, show additional product sharing options like WhatsApp, SMS and so on, pre-load all product image variants, add a one-click checkout and send a notification when an item on her wishlist is cheaper and inform her of a sale just five minutes before it starts. In the near future, these apps will allow voice search, monthly reminder lists, automated delivery based on your consumption patterns. In short, the possibilities are limitless," says Nameet Potnis, co-founder,

Flipkart, which gets more than 75 per cent of its traffic on its m-commence platform, says a large percentage of the growth in sales is coming from tier-II and tier-III cities. "Most of our growth in the last 17-18 months have come from smaller cities and largely from the mobile. People are comfortable with apps after having used Facebook and WhatsApp. It is more of a one-on-one communication. Through the app we are leveraging our CRM to communicate with the customer in a more focused manner," says Mausam Bhatt, senior director, mobile marketing, Flipkart. "Compared to a mobile site, the conversion rate is higher on the app," adds Bhatt.

On the other side
However, for Makemytrip, its mobile site is an acquisition platform while the app is a loyalty and retention platform, which also complements its desktop presence. "When a user visits our website from a desktop, we ask them to use our app to go forward in their journey. They can download our app to change schedule, cancel booking when they are travelling. Desktop plus app is a great combo. They complement each other perfectly," says Pranav Bhasin, head, online products,

More than 40 per cent of the online travel portal's traffic comes from the mobile platform, which includes both the mobile site and an app. "The shares of the mobile site and the app are equal. In terms of transaction, we see people behave differently for different products. For flights, around 20 per cent the transaction takes place on the mobile and for hotels the share is 37 per cent."

Online marketplace Snapdeal, which gets around 70 per cent of its traffic from its m-commerce platform, does not view the whole question as an either-or dilemma. Ankit Khanna, senior VP, product development, Snapdeal, says, "We do not want to force consumers to download our app. If they want to browse first and buy later, we enable them to do that."

Agrees Bhasin of Makemytrip. "The mobile site is convenient for people who are just getting mobile-enabled. It is difficult to convince consumers to download apps at the first instance. Once they have graduated beyond their first booking through the mobile and become a repeat user, they can download the app," says Bhasin.

Mobile apps also enable customised offers, which is not possible on mobile-optimised sites. "Last year, Snapdeal had introduced the shake feature in its mobile app. This helps the user receive great offers by just shaking their smartphone while using the app," says Khanna of Snapdeal.

Get the 'apponomics' right
From the brand's point of view, once the customer downloads an app, they are connected 24x7. "SMSes and push notifications have eight times higher response rates from consumers compared to emails. Thus, sending relevant and targeted push notifications would not only have higher response rates for the brand but also improve the shopping experience for the customer," says Potnis of Apptuse.

Mobile apps also mean less data usage and lower load on the server. Says Rajiv Kumar, CEO and founder of, "When you develop a mobile app there are less number of devices to manage because apps work only across mobile devices but this is not the case for mobile sites or general websites, where the site is developed to work across many types of devices."

But that doesn't mean mobile app platforms are low on investment. Says Praveen Sinha, co-founder & CEO, Jabong, "Mobile app users are actually costlier to acquire as the cost of an install is quite high. But we think in the long run, and thanks to more personalised notifications and better shopping experience, the investment pays off. Marketers get improved results by interacting with the consumers in the mobile app format, which offers better long-term value."

Curated online furniture seller Urban Ladder is also promoting its app platform with lucrative offers such the chance to win a free home makeover or up to 15 per cent off on certain items. Last month, Urban Ladder received around 45 per cent traffic and 40 per cent transactions from the m-commerce platform, which includes the app.

Evidently, an app install cost is high. But once you get the consumer on board, the marketing cost could get lower and lower.

So does it make sense to go app-only? For one, Kumar of Storehippo doesn't think it's a great idea. "I do not contemplate moving to an exclusive mobile-app-only platform. A mobile website is the first step to register a mobile web presence, whereas an app has a very specific purpose that cannot be effectively accomplished via a web browser. Mobile apps and sites have their benefits and go hand-in-hand. Yes, a handful of the big players in the e-commerce industry are getting 60-70 per cent of their transactions via mobile apps, one can't afford to ignore those customers who do online shopping via mobile sites, or over laptops and desktops."

To sum up, mobile apps certainly enable better targeting of customers, but its major drawback is it introduces an extra step in the shopping journey - at least the first time around. As a marketer pointed out, the great benefit of e-commerce is you can click and buy. With an app you click, download and then buy. And therein lies its biggest challenge: you have to demonstrate to the people how wonderful the app is so they download it in the first place. And then show them how great the shopping experience could be - over and over again.

Picking the right mobile strategy for your business: Suryadeep Agrawal
Between a mobile app and mobile website, mobile apps are faster and can provide a better customer experience. Mobile websites are often not able to leverage most of the device capabilities and end up being poor cousins of their desktop counterparts. Try using the mobile web version of Facebook or Twitter compared to their apps. Does it mean that mobile apps are for everyone? The answer is not so simple and there are various considerations before a conclusion can be made:

You should consider investing in mobile websites when:
  • The primary traffic source is still desktop; mobile traffic is increasing but still low
  • Development and marketing budgets are constrained
  • Reach is important
  • The product or service is not sticky and you don’t see a very high percentage of repeat visitors
  • Customer experience on the site does not need native device capabilities such as a camera and microphone
  • Consumers can download only a certain number of apps on their devices and repeat interaction is the key
You should consider investing in mobile apps when:
  • Mobile is the primary source of traffic and conversions, or it’s fast becoming one
  • There is a high brand recall and app installs do not require disproportionately high marketing push
  • Target audience is on smartphones & specific platforms
  • Device specific capabilities are required
  • Product or service is sticky resulting in high percentage of repeat visitors and transactions. A loyal customer base makes the business case for apps very easy.
  • Budget is not an issue
Suryadeep Agrawal
Senior product manager, Adobe marketing coud, Adobe

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First Published: Mon, April 27 2015. 00:15 IST