I’ve been building site search for a lot of our clients’ mobile sites in the past few months. But a question I often get is: should we go for a Mobile App. or a Mobile Site? So I thought I would write my thoughts on the topic down in a blog post.

There are many arguments in favor of offering a mobile app. to your customers. Mobile apps are not accessed through a browser, but appear as app icons on your handheld device. Most of these apps are free, directly downloadable from iTunes for example. The interface can be very sophisticated, and contain rich hi-resolution graphics since they’re included in the app and not downloaded. They provide a faster way for the user to get directly to your site. Smartphone apps can also optimize the shopping experience with cool features being added all the time, like enabling customers to create “favorites” lists, share recommendations with others, allow consumers to scan codes in-shop, and find local stores with location finder features, among other things.

On the flip side, a mobile app is more expensive to develop and takes longer to build since you need to offer a different version for each different mobile platform (including tablets). And because the devices and their features functionality change all the time, an app will constantly need to be updated.

Some eTailers therefore start by simply launching a browser-based mobile commerce site first, and create a specific shopping app later. Others have decided to go with the mobile app from the get go. The route you take will depend on how quickly you would like to have a mobile site up and running, and of course, your budget.

A mobile site on the other hand needs to be designed just once and more generically to fit a variety of devices. So a mobile site is much easier and less costly to design, build and maintain. Your mobile site is also instantly accessible by your visitors. All they need is a browser. An app needs to be downloaded and installed, adding extra steps that might distract a potential buyer. But, the trade-off is that there are limitations to the types of features and formats you can offer.

So, how does your choice affect your site search implementation? Not much actually. Keep in mind that whichever route you do take, search should figure prominently, even more so then on your regular website. Search presents a great opportunity to enhance the user experience on a mobile device, whether you choose an app or a mobile site. The small screen makes it hard for visitors to navigate through the site, hence most people will opt to search for specific products or specific information, rather than just browse by clicking links. If you look at the mobile sites of Free People, 7 For All Mankind and MotorCycle SuperStore, you’ll notice the search box is the first thing you see – We did this intentionally. And like a traditional eCommerce site, you can offer things like user ratings/reviews, refinements, and social media buttons to give visitors easy access to information that can be helpful.

I need to get back to work and take care of my clients, but I would love to hear back from our readers on this interesting topic.

2 thoughts to ““Mobile App or Mobile Site? Which is best for you? And How Does Your Choice Affect Site Search?

  • Naveen

    Hi Gina,

    I really appreciate your post, this provides a fundamental comparison between an app vs. mobile site. I also want to add couple of more differences like offline feature, a mobile website need to have an internet connection to work smoothly, on the other side app can work offline, customer can easily browse through the products, categories, they can keep their cart ready etc.
    mobile app can allow sending push notification to customers related to offers, discounts, coupons and I think this is little bit cumbersome in terms of mobile website. We have to think about the innovation whether it is related to mobile site or mobile app.

  • Joseph Bell

    The smartphones are everywhere. You see people chattering with family and friends in the malls and on transit systems. You see people of all ages playing “Angry Birds”, “Cut the Rope” or some other entertaining app. People can cruise through websites with a tap and swipe on smartphones, all while away from their home computer. For years, advertisers capitalized on the home-based (or office based) computers to provide real time and context specific advertisements to web surfers (via their browsers). Money could be made for “pay per click” or similar ad models. This method still works, but the problem for advertisers is that people aren’t using their desktop PCs much any more. They’re using their smartphones.

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