Mobile Shopping Experiences: Native Apps or Mobile Websites?

In 2018, the number of retail mobile apps used by consumers doubled, with 67% having downloaded an app for a retailer on their smartphones versus 63% a year prior. 83% of those consumers are happy with the customer experience  provided by the retail mobile apps they have downloaded. That’s largely down to the seamless user experience a mobile app can provide, but more on this later.

The progress that native apps have made in recent years is phenomenal. With ever changing mobile landscape and consumers increased usage – mobile applications for retailers appear to be a no brainer when it comes to product demand and meeting consumer behaviour (and their needs). The number of mobile phone users in the world was expected to pass the five billion mark by 2019.

Consumers want better experiences, especially with brands that they advocate and whilst ecommerce websites aren’t going anywhere, it appears that retail apps are here to stay too. The rate of change in retail is astonishing and there’s no doubt the two unstoppable trends that are shaping the industry are the growth of e-commerce and its shift to mobile.

Retailers are becoming more digitally savvy and understanding what their consumers want over what the retailer themselves think they need. Considering that more than half of smartphone owners view their mobile device immediately after waking, it makes sense for retailers to catch their consumers in the moment with the likes of push notifications, over waiting for their custom via ecommerce discovery or email marketing.

Let’s be frank, for Millenials and Gen Z, a push notification from a brand you admire with a discount or promotion is liquid gold. Catch them in the moment on their mobile device and play to their more impulsive nature. The likes of Missguided, I Saw It First and SheIn are well-known for their countdown sales with limited time to purchase, which has extended to their applications and highlighted by push notifications.

Whilst an ecommerce website might seem like an easier option when it comes to discovery and landing, or even experience considering the responsiveness to browsers on mobile these days, the fact is, mobile apps are creating a more user-friendly and seamless experiences with interactions that we’ve all come to know (the swipe and tap).

More playful and bespoke designs, more intuitive communication and richer experiences with the integration of technology used on smartphones – mobile apps have become a user-centric one-stop-shop (literally) for brands.

What is a native mobile app?

A native application is a software program that has been developed for a specific platform, for instance, IOS or Android, dependant on your mobile device. They provide an optimised performance for device-specific hardware and software, and so, create a much more fluid and seamless user experience. Native apps can hook into technology such as AR, push notifications and GPS mapping which are useful to retailers looking for points of difference.

However, due to the nature of native apps, it does mean that separate code bases have to be developed for different operating systems. That’s why you often find that someone might have access to a native app on an iPhone but not on an Android, because the developer hasn’t created the app for that particular base code yet.

A key technology, especially for retailers, is the intelligence behind visual search and the ability to be able to serve a consumer a product similar (if not the same) to an item they’re looking for.

Visual Search Technology

Whilst Visual Search Technology (VST) has been used on websites, it really comes into its own through native apps enabling the complexities of taking the image itself into query. VST allows a consumer to take a picture of an item and then search it, in app, for the same item or something similar.

This opens up a highly competitive market and whilst a consumer might have found the item elsewhere, if a brand they love has something similar through their own app (without having to endlessly search for it), the conversion is practically complete.

(Image credit: H&M)

Pinterest has reported that their users carried out more than 600 million combined monthly searches using their Lens Technology in February 2018, with fashion sitting as the #1 searched category. Implementing this sort of proprietary technology is a no brainer and the likes of ASOS have already started that journey with their “Style Match” visual search tool, as well as H&M.

It was reported that in the first quarter of 2018, more than two thirds (67%) of visits to UK retailers came via a mobile phone, with mobile accounting for 40% of sales and tablet 18%. This starts to beg the question of removing the consumers step between visiting a browser and searching for a website, over simply opening an app.

Whilst I don’t believe ecommerce will take any sort of dip when it comes to sales or even traffic; for those with native apps, it will become more of a discovery platform and landing page to only direct consumers into using their app over a website. That can already be seen across a multitude of ecoms, as seen below. And if anything will suffer for it, it’s going to be the desktop experience.

We’re even starting to shift into a whole new area with Live Shopping. Consider QVC and then reimagine it as an app with a live shopping experience at your fingertips with Dote’s shopping parties. A new means of storytelling, a whole new platform for ‘influencers’ and an even deeper connection between peers advocating brands. But will this just become another means for Gen Z to be heavily influenced into purchases based on someone’s (often paid for) opinion on a product?

(Image credit: Dote)

At the moment, Dote is only accessible to big YouTube or Instagram stars and retailers such as Urban Outfitters, Honeybum, Princess Polly and Dolls Kill. Though Farleigh, the CEO and Founder, has stated they’ll consider opening up the feature to anyone to host a live shopping party, it’s still within its exclusive stages.

Will this become the new Instagram bridging the gap between live videos, Instagram Influencer #Ads and retailers? Only time will tell. However, we can be assured in the fact that apps are going to continue to grow with ecommerce and are here to stay.

Lauren Irwin

About Lauren Irwin

Lauren is the Campaign Marketing Manager for Abstrakt and has been working as a freelance Marketing Consultant for over two years. Experienced in social media strategies, digital marketing, branding and content marketing; all the cool stuff!