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Are apps worth the investment to acquire new customers?

As the population of smartphone owners continues to climb, developers will notice that a greater percentage of the Web traffic going to their online content comes from mobile devices. Brands with responsive Web designs will have no problem accommodating visitors using various screen sizes, but companies with slow-moving desktop pages or costly apps that require a platform built from scratch, will find it challenging to get smartphone users to their pages, let alone convert them.

“We’ve only just started to get serious about our site in the last few years,” said Ken Frazza, Century 21’s director of ecommerce strategies and Web production.

“We’re working with responsive design and so far have had a 60 percent increase in mobile traffic from this year versus last year; Next year we predict to see an even bigger spike from mobile devices.”

“We really started to take a look at what we are doing for mobile and responsive design is the first step, from there a mobile site and mobile app but we don’t really have the time or budget to invest in that and instead are honing in on our sites user-experience.”

“The amount of time it takes for your Website to load on desktop might be two or three seconds, on mobile maybe four or five, and in-app maybe even more. You have to look at your site with how are you designing with mobile in mind so how much do you take off, do you need everything on your desktop to carry over to the phone? How do you design for that?” he said.

New implications
There’s new evidence that suggests marketers don’t necessarily need to spring for new Websites right away according to a discussion on Acquiring Customers Through Mobile Devices at eTail East 2014. Apps have one clear advantage. In general, a well-made app can provide a far better user experience than even the best mobile websites are capable of presently.



But what is missing from such discussions is cost. It’s often not that hard to make a Web app that will work well on most smartphones, but making a native app is usually harder than making an equivalent cross-platform Web app. Developers need to plan for countless updates, improvements and fixes as well.

Facebook, Google+, iOS and Android have created an app overload problem for internet users. The market is being flooded with thousands of apps, and yet, consumers are typically using very few applications on a day-to-day business. Moreover, very few businesses have actually found a way to tie into every app platform. They’ve either dedicated all their resources to one platform or simply disregarded one of the app platforms entirely.

There are several ways to approach a mobile Web presence, and the idea behind responsive design is to create one website to fit all screen sizes. The biggest challenge Mr. Frazza cited that needs to be overcome when building successful responsive Websites deals with images. Scaled images quickly lose details and thus their meaning. Providing different images per device is one solution but with this option there are still a lot of pros and cons to consider.

Early user testing is essential for any successful responsive website. The different behavior and the challenge to design for both touch and regular screens at the same time will require excessive testing. To test if everything works, test on as many devices as possible.

Many fans of a given brand are disappointed in the company itself if the mobile experience doesn’t meet their expectations. A frustrating experience on a Website will hurt an opinion of the brand overall.

“We know that we have to take our mobile seriously and start thinking mobile first from the design aspect and consider even down to taking photos how it will look on mobile,” Mr. Frazza said.

“With many impressions happening via smartphones, you have to make sure you have a positive experience or users won’t revisit you on desktop.”

Final Take
Michelle is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York