THE BLOG

The Odd Couple: Why Apps and the Mobile Web Will Have to Share a Flat for Some Time Yet

30/06/2014 13:20 BST | Updated 27/08/2014 10:59 BST

It's an argument that's seemingly as old the proverbial hills and with more bumps to boot. The apps versus mobile web debate scintillates some, leaves others indifferent and has the majority reaching for their nightcaps as they slowly drift into deep sleep. Yet, whether you're down with the app kids or a loyal stalwart of the mobile web, there has been a huge amount of media attention on which side marketers need to lean in order to win the battle for today's mobile customer.

What's interesting is the context of the data used to back either side of the story. A recent study from a native app analytics company wrongly headlined the web is dead (wishful thinking before a potential IPO?). The study goes on to show how much more time people spend in apps than on the web. But what is failed to show was 'meaningful' brand engagement time spent on the device.

While there is no disputing most spend more time in social media and games on our device than shopping or searching on the web, it in no way reduces or impacts the outstanding fact that 90% of consumers still search and shop on their device through the web, not apps. And this is where impactful engagement and brand loyalty are actually happening. In fact, very few companies have or likely ever will land a coveted place in the very selective device real-estate. Apps take memory and clutter a device interface.

People are selective and there is much research now to show that mobile users do not download or keep apps other than social, media and games on their device. So the only place to meet them if you are a retailer or a brand is through the web, where by the way, they are already looking for you. And one point further in Netbiscuits consumer web trends study we discovered that people prefer in equal measures to use social, media and games on both web and apps, moving between the two worlds seamlessly.

Only this week, more research from OtherLevels revealed that consumers today prefer to use the mobile web to a mobile app in a study looking at 100 retailers, and suggests that shoppers are still catching up with what is available. A study from ICM of 1,300 consumers found that apps are falling behind mobile websites in m-commerce. While the research showed one-fifth of people are buying more often on their mobiles compared with a year ago, it also found that mobile websites are the most commonly used option for users for 12 of 13 retailers analysed in the research, including brands such as Amazon, eBay, Asos and John Lewis.

Brands such as Yelp and TripAdvisor, predominantly app-driven services have chimed in this week. Speaking at the Open Mobile Summit in London today Sheera Gendzel, international business development lead at Yelp, said the reviews site has been working to "close the gap" between the experience users get on the Yelp app and the mobile website, and urged others to do the same.

She said: "We are seeing more and more traffic coming to us on the mobile web and we are working to make that experience just as great. Recently we launched the ability to add photos from the mobile web to encourage contribution because the website, which if you Google Indian restaurant in London, is a very common way you come to find us. Don't just think of the app as two thirds of people may never open it again."

To be successful, brands need to look where their customers want to engage with them, examine how their customers actually interact with content and how the mobile web offers a more effective route to customer engagement. The truth, while not quite as headline grabbing as 'The Mobile Web is Dead', is that both have their place contextually in today's mobile dominated world. Put down the boxing gloves and that steel chair, there is no war. The mobile web is the clear winner when it comes to consumer brand engagement.