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Mobile Website vs Native App: Which is Right for Your Customer Experience?

Is a mobile website or a native app right for your customer experience?
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Creating a great mobile experience is vital for the success of any organization today. More people than ever are interacting with companies online and the majority of purchasing experiences see customers transition between devices multiple times. Customers now expect great experiences with a company’s mobile presence. Any organization looking to improve their customer experience (CX) strategy and embrace digital transformation in all aspects of their business will need to make wise choices concerning their mobile platform future.

If you are considering where to take your online mobile presence, you may be weighing mobile web design against native applications when determining where to invest your time and money. Consider the following pros and cons of mobile websites and native apps for what your customers want from your business and determine what is the right path for your company’s mobile experience strategy.

The choices you make can help you empower your organization and meet your target audience’s unique needs.

Mobile Website Advantages

Optimized mobile websites are responsive versions of your organization’s online presence that can be seen on any device. These sites can be programmed as responsive, meaning that they will automatically alter their layout to suit whichever device they are displayed on, or as mobile first, meaning that they are given many different mobile web designs to specifically suit various devices.

Customer experience advantages of mobile websites include:

  • Discoverable - People search for fast answers on mobile devices today more than ever and Smart Insights reports that 48% of consumers start mobile research with a search engine. Mobile-friendly websites are being prioritized by Google more than ever, so having your site optimized for mobile is crucial for being discovered in search engine results.
  • Fast Content Updates - Customers expect a brand’s online presence to reflect the latest news and updates as soon as possible, and when they encounter inaccurate information online, they can quickly grow frustrated and have a poor customer experience. Mobile websites built on a strong platform will allow you to edit and update content across all versions of a site at the same time to reflect new developments or fix any mistakes for better and more satisfying CX.
  • Consistent with Desktop Presence - If a potential customer has interacted with your website on a desktop computer and then switched to a smartphone or tablet, he or she may be able to more easily access the same information, products and more for a consistent and helpful online customer experience than with a native app. Research from Wolfgang Jaegel found that 83% of mobile users believe that a seamless experience across all devices is very important, so it is up to you to meet these expectations with your integrative website.
  • Accessible Across Devices - Customers want to be able to interact with brands online on their own preferred devices. McKinsey & Company research has found that 61% of users are unlikely to return to a mobile site after having trouble accessing it, with 40% visiting a competitor’s site instead. A true omnichannel experience enabled by a mobile-friendly website means that any user can have a continuous and consistent interaction with your brand across any device. In order to do the same with an app, different iterations will need to be programmed for various operating systems.

These CX advantages of mobile web design may be right for your company’s specific target audience and should not be ignored when deciding how to improve your online presence.

Native App Advantages

Native apps are built for a specific operating system and are then distributed through an app store for download onto mobile phones. Unlike mobile websites, native apps are not explored through search engines, but are self-contained programs on mobile devices that can interact with other programs.

If you are considering mobile app development, potential customer experience advantages of native apps include:

  • Offline Access - While Internet service and WiFi are more accessible than ever, there is no guarantee that devices will be able to connect no matter their location. As such, your audience may be unable to access your services at critical moments on mobile websites. Native apps do not need an Internet connection to work, but they can still support features that require online access. Should your audience require digital support in offline environments, such as working in areas with little cell phone coverage, a native app can provide great help, better solidifying the value of your brand through good customer experience.
  • Native Capabilities - Mobile devices can provide highly useful information about users, including location, interests and other various data collected from their actions. Apps can be given access to this information in order to create experiences that are customized to each person’s unique interests and needs. Native mobile applications are built for a specific mobile platform, such as iOS or Android. While that means developers will need to rebuild if they want to work on various platforms, it also means that the app will work smoothly with the operating system that is running it when programmed correctly. However, platform updates may cause issues with an app, requiring more maintenance for proper performance.
  • Consistent User Experiences - Poor displays on certain mobile devices, issues due to Internet connections and more complications both within and outside of the control of companies can cause disruptions in the mobile experience. Applications can be tailored to numerous types of devices, screen sizes and internet connections they experience. As such, users and companies can expect consistent CX for apps.
  • Specific Uses to Empower Customers - According to Smart Insights, 89% of mobile media time is spent on apps, meaning that not providing an app may cause you to lose out on a large percentage of potential interaction. Customers will find a greater appreciation for and a stronger connection with brands that provide them with useful tools for their lives, which can often be found in well-designed applications. Mobile apps can be created and distributed by companies as specific services, providing much-needed support to target audiences for their unique needs. While these apps may not have wide-ranging uses like a mobile website, they can provide in-depth and specific services for great customer experiences. For example, Ray Ban’s mobile app allows customers to use a photo of themselves to see which sunglasses are right for them, which is unlike anything available on their website.

While an app may not be right for every organization, consider the needs of your target audience and whether mobile app development can help meet their needs in ways you do not currently provide.

Creating a Hybrid App

Hybrid mobile apps may be the right choice for many companies due to their ability to bridge some of the gaps between mobile websites and native mobile apps. Hybrid apps are hosted inside a native application but use various web technologies to access the Internet within the application. In doing so, hybrid mobile apps can leverage the advantages experienced by both mobile websites and native applications, but may also be subject to the disadvantages experienced by both, such as potentially being broken by operating system updates and losing functionality when cell phone service is unavailable.

If you are considering hybrid mobile app development, consider your target audience’s desired customer experience as well as how it would fit into your omnichannel experience and determine if this application type is right for you and your customers. Do your customers expect repeat services, such as those found in the retail, travel, and food industries? If so, an app may be right, as these are readily accessible and continually used. Or will they only have a one-time purchasing experience with you? In these instances, mobile websites may have more value for you.

In any case, making the choice requires thoughtful consideration and care for your audience.

Make the Most of Your Mobile Strategy

Deciding which type of app is right for your company is only part of developing a successful mobile strategy. Learn more actionable steps for your mobile strategy with our whitepaper.

Read Mobile Strategies  
Originally published
July 21, 2017
 last updated
October 6, 2017
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