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Native eCommerce Apps – Effective or Excessive?

With the evolution of the smart phone, optimizing your eCommerce site for mobile devices just makes sense. Did you know that an estimated 73.3 million people in the United States alone own a smart phone? A statistic even more impressive is that approximately 70% of those people have downloaded at least one “native” app on their phone. A native app is an application made specifically for and installed on a single device or operating system, hence why if you download the same app for an iPhone and Android device they probably will look similar, but usually they aren’t exactly the same.

But are apps really the “next big thing”? According to a study by Scene7 and Keynote Services there may still be some apprehension surrounding mobile apps, with two-thirds of respondents preferring to utilize mobile sites instead of apps for their mobile needs. Although respondents reported similar satisfaction levels and spent a similar amount of time on each medium, there was large discrepancy on which medium respondents preferred to use for specific tasks. Two-thirds of respondents preferred mobile sites for mobile commerce over native apps – but apps were favored for games, social media, maps and music.

Is this an anomaly? To take a closer look at the difference between apps and mobile sites, I asked a few questions to Gary Lombardo, the mobile commerce marketing manager at our end-to-end partner Demandware.

Gary, what are some of the “must have” features retailers are requesting to have in their mobile apps?

Examples of common “must haves” are: Catalog, Pricing, Promotions, Coupons, Search, Navigation, Product Details, Static Image Delivery, Checkout, Ship to, Tax, Privacy Policy Links, Site Management, Inventory, Slotting, Branding… there are a lot.

Quickly becoming “must haves” for certain retailers (depending upon segment) are product reviews, recommendations, wish lists, bar-code scanning, integrated mobile coupons/offers, and social shopping capabilities.

How do you think the landscape of mobile applications will change in the next 5 years? What should retailers prepare for?

Native mobile apps are actually becoming less important for retailers and the mobile web will become increasingly more important. Selected retailers should have a native app if their consumers use them in the interim, but plan for native app functionality on the mobile web as technology converges.  We are currently evolving Demandware Mobile to reflect this trend. It’s one of the major mobile trends retailers should be planning for in 2011 and beyond.

What advice would you give a retailer venturing into the mobile app market for the first time?

Make sure mobile is an integrated part of your overall commerce strategy and not an isolated channel.  With that said, make sure mobile is viewed as an important strategic investment for the company and not as a “one time” thing. Have clear and measurable goals and be ready to adapt and optimize your strategy as the market evolves. If you decide a native app makes sense, make sure it’s designed in a way that your consumers will want to use it and the app is on devices that they use. Also, make sure you proactively promote your mobile efforts—put signs in-store, promote mobile on your traditional website, on other sites, etc… this will increase the likelihood of consumer adoption and success.  Demandware actually just recently released a whitepaper on the success factors for mobile commerce which could be used to understand and help a retailer get started with mobile commerce, whether or not the retailer chooses to utilize native apps.

As you can see from Gary’s comments, maybe the Keynote Services study is pretty accurate after all and an app is not a requirement for retailers to be successful in mobile commerce. It appears as if the development of native apps should be done more on a “case-by-case” basis, based on the target audience of the retailer and how this audience interacts with a retailer’s products.

Thanks Gary for your contribution and feel free to share your thoughts on mobile applications below!