“Ask L2” is a weekly series where we answer questions about all things digital.

Question: Is it more important to invest in my mobile site or a mobile application?

The ongoing debate of mobile apps versus sites has yet to reach a conclusion, but the appropriate use for each option is becoming more clear. Today, mobile devices are best suited for upper-funnel shopping activities like comparison shopping, product research, browsing, and product discovery happening both in store and on the go. This partially explains why mobile currently accounts for 60% of consumer time spent shopping online but only generates 16% of transactions.

Mobile shopping has yet to create a stripped down, frictionless checkout experience to replace the one designed for desktop, where the number of clicks required to check out is radically reduced and storing and retrieving information is much less labor intensive. Brand response to the need for an easier mobile device checkout process has been uneven, with a clear majority simply mirroring the lengthy desktop checkout flows to mobile.

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Brands have actively been working to lead mobile browsers further down the purchase path and implementing commerce tools that lessen the friction for purchasing an item on mobile. Seventy percent of Index brands in L2’s Intelligence Report: Mobile 2016 offer a wide variety of expedited payments via their mobile site or app, with PayPal dominating market share—six times greater than its nearest competitor, Visa Checkout. However, more mobile sites are likely to adopt this feature as Apple announced in June 2016 that Safari will be able to support Apple Pay.

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Prior to this announcement, apps had the clear advantage in closing transactions and driving repeat purchases. Apple Pay had been restricted to in-app and in-store purchases, allowing brands like Cole Haan to reduce a 15+ step checkout process to two clicks through Apple Pay. These benefits can now be incorporated into the mobile site.

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However, this upgrade to the mobile site experience does not negate the value of apps. Mobile apps offer a more immersive consumer experience and understand the persistent identity of an end user—extremely difficult to do in mobile browsing environments. The wide range of features available for aps include driving cross-channel interactions and providing a streamlined conversion funnel to facilitating more target advertising and providing better behavioral data via SDK-based in-app analytics. Nonetheless, app usage is extremely concentrated, with most consumers using only a handful of apps on a regular basis.

Winning apps are those that increasingly focus on omnichannel and in-store integration. From November 2014 to August 2015, Nordstrom was able to drive a 23+ point lift in consumer satisfaction with its retail app, due to a series of savvy updates designed to provide omnichannel and social media integration. In response to growing consumer demand for omnichannel commerce, Nordstrom incorporated new features like geolocation notifications and buy online and pickup in store. To ensure smooth on-device transactions, a Paypal incorporation offered an expedited payment option. The brand also includes links to its own blog, Instagram, and video content syndicated in app.

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Additionally, mobile applications allow customers to easily access loyalty programs. Walgreens was the first to launch a loyalty program integration with Apple Pay, encouraging the brand’s more than 85 million active Balance Rewards members to use their accounts through Apple Pay, allowing them to both earn and redeem loyalty points via Apple Pay. Not only does it allow Balance Rewards to be added directly to Apple Wallet, Walgreens integrates loyalty-card data into Apple Pay itself, providing a one-swipe experience that combines payment with loyalty. By combining frequency of purchase with a well-developed loyalty ecosystem, brands can help connect the dots between mobile devices and physical stores.

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In the near to midterm, brands must look to maintain parallel functionality across their mobile applications and their mobile sites to ensure, regardless of point of entry, the brand experience is identical. Despite having a very high conversion rate (76%) between people that downloaded the app and those that used it, Lululemon made sure that customers who did not want to download the app, received a consistent experience, providing a nearly identical user interface and feature set between their app and mobile site.

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With only 15% of shoppers willing to give brands a second chance after a poor user experience, whichever the brand decides to move forward with, they need to make sure it is done correctly through understanding how a brand’s consumers interact with mobile and what benefits can be incorporated.
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