The business world is going mobile as handheld devices are quickly becoming a primary portal for business transactions and customer outreach. Even Google is recognizing that more users turn to their phones, so mobile websites have now become a necessity with Google’s revised search algorithm, which delivers mobile-friendly sites to the top of the search results.
To enter the realm of mobile business, you would think that a responsive website is all you need. But, what if you want to take a step further? With nearly 3 million Apple and Android apps in the market, a mobile app makes it easier for your customers to research and buy your products and services.
Apps do take longer to develop, release, and push out updates. Before you jump onto the app-building bandwagon, you need to ask yourself what benefits an app could provide to your business that your mobile website doesn’t already.

When Would An App Be Useful?

1) When The User Experience Brings Customer Loyalty
We discussed in a previous blog post about how user experience is essential to digital design. When considering the step forward to a mobile app, you should ask yourself whether your customers are frequent users of your services.
If they are, then a major drawback of having only a mobile site is that mobile browsers are limited in their overall capability. It is also redundant for regular users to load the page and log in every time they use the service.
With an app, the framework and interface is already stored on the user’s device and they would only need to load the variable information from a web server. Since the app stands alone, it can store any information it needs, allowing for faster loading or offline access.
Take ordering pizza from Papa John’s, for example. On the mobile site, customers can view the menu, store contact information, and order through the website. As a company, they know customers will most likely use their mobile site to do these simple tasks, so they have only included that relevant information. The rest is left to the full desktop website.
When ordering on the mobile site, users may find it tiresome to load each order page. If they regularly ordered pizza this way, it would be tedious to load each page and the extra waiting may cause customers to give up on their order altogether. With an app, everything is loaded once, and it remains on their phone for on-demand access. The Papa John’s app even stores account and payment information to save time in check out for regular users.
Papa Johns Mobile Site Screenshot Papa Johns App Screenshot
2) When User Interaction Is Key
A key feature of most apps is interaction, and interaction takes processing power. The Papa John’s app and mobile website allow users to order food whenever and wherever they are. The difference is behind the scenes, but it also reflects on the two different interfaces shown above.
With every tap on the mobile site (left), data is sent to and from the Papa John’s server. Every link also leads to a whole new webpage. On the app (right), data is processed on your device and each tap triggers certain processes that can affect all or part of what is shown on the display. The website interface is consequently not as complex as the app to reduce loading time, but still finds itself underperforming when compared to the app.
Different types of businesses use apps in different ways. Banks use apps to allow customers to manage their accounts conveniently. Stores use apps to allow customers to browse the catalogue and make purchases. When the content of a website is more involved and the user will be jumping from link to link, an app will respond better to the user since each reaction is programmed right into it.

3) When An Offline Reference Or Access Tool Is Necessary

Customers sometimes have limited web access due to data restrictions or location. Whatever the reason, an app that stores information for offline access gives businesses the upper hand.
Offline data has a range of uses—from casual music or videos to serious medical help. A business that can provide its services to users without being connected to the internet has more appeal and usability than one that does not. This is contingent on whether the available offline information has potential to increase customer satisfaction.

When a Mobile Friendly Website Will Suffice

So, how do you know that your mobile site is all you need? If your site only contains information about your organization to educate potential customers about your services or products, chances are they will read over it once and get the idea. If customers don’t need to constantly reference this information to maintain a relationship, you don’t need an app, which would only sit and take up space on a user’s device.
Websites that focus on “About Us” to attract customers to the place of business rather than providing the service directly online are ones that may not require an app to accompany the mobile site. Having a site that can be displayed neatly on mobile and desktop through responsive design will suffice for a content-focused website.
However, as you think about communicating with your customers and showcasing your products or services, you may find that an app can be an effective tool to nurture customer relations.

Making the Mobile Decision

Having a mobile friendly website is essential to help your business grow. Adding an app can potentially be helpful if online interaction is a key aspect of your business. Even if your app is not transactional in nature, it can be an effective tool for customers to easily find your stores or to contact you. Finding just the right fit for your business or organization is essential to being successful in the digital marketing space.

Written by Gregory Garcia

Gregory Garcia is a Web Design Intern at esd & associates from the City of San Antonio Ambassador Program. He is currently working on his Bachelor of Arts in Computer Science at Grinnell College in Grinnell, IA where he is a tutor for the intro courses and an app developer for the college.