Should there always be an app for that?


With the continued growth of smartphones and tablets in recent years, many retailers have invested significantly in creating bespoke apps for their customers. It seems a logical step. Retailers see that their customers have devices that can give them access to a whole new way of shopping and so they develop an app to tick all of the omnichannel boxes. Our own research however, highlights that perhaps apps are not the be all and end all of the mobile/ tablet shopping experience. Instead, what customers often want is a website that is optimised for their device rather than a specific app.

What has led us to this conclusion? Well, let’s look at the data:

1) Only 2 in 5 people have shopping apps on their devices:

In our Multi-screen Life study, only 2 in 5 people (41%) who have smartphones, tablets and PCs, actually have a shopping app on their device, and on average, they only have 3.5 shopping apps in total. The biggest winners are the usual suspects, but would Amazon & eBay really be happy with such a small penetration of app downloads? And why don’t more people have the apps on their devices?

Base: 1,000 multi-screeners

2) There is a sizeable group of people who say they prefer websites to apps on their smartphones:

As the issue of apps has come to the fore of our thinking, we decided to explicitly ask people whether they have a preference for websites or apps on their smartphones. What we found is that more people said they preferred websites to apps with one in two going for websites (46%) and one in six claiming they preferred apps (17%). The reasons for this are that people prefer the full breadth of the web where they can easily tab between competitor websites, a belief that apps are only a cut-down version of what is on the website, that the fact that experience has shown that apps aren’t optimised for tablets. What is interesting though is that the preference for websites over apps is true across all age groups and both genders (albeit to varying degrees).

Base: 1,000 multi-screeners

So, what does this mean for retailers? Rather than developing all singing and dancing apps, the data would suggest that retailers need to spend more time optimising their websites, ensuring that they have a responsive design that takes into account the device being used. Then, and only then, will their customers have the experience they prefer through the mobile/ tablet channel. But what does this mean for apps? Anecdotal evidence suggests that they work best when the purchase cycle is quite frequent and the products on offer cover a range of categories. In these instances, a 1-Click solution to purchasing within an app may set it at an advantage (e.g. Amazon, eBay). For less frequently purchased product types, apps, whilst important to some, can take the backseat for the time being.