Posted March 13, 2012 4:02 pm by with 4 comments

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Apps may be all the rage, but a new study from Nielsen shows that it’s mobile websites that are getting all the attention from shoppers.

This past holiday season, Nielsen monitored the smartphone shopping habits of 5,000 volunteers. They concentrated on five big sellers — Amazon, Best Buy, eBay, Target and Walmart — and found that, combined, they reached nearly 60 percent of those shoppers.

In spite of all the hoopla around holiday shopping apps, the majority used the mobile websites to complete their purchases.

Though all of the retailers had a usage bump around Black Friday, Amazon was the overall winner when it came to reach.

You could look at these stats and say that people don’t want to shop with apps but it’s more likely a case of e-commerce confusion.

Back in November, I downloaded Amazon’s mobile app for the iPad. Like many tablet apps, it relies heavily on graphics which was fine when I was browsing for ideas. But when I began looking for specific items, the app fell flat. Navigation beyond the top levels is near impossible and it’s hard to refine searches for items with similar titles. I gave up and used my tablet browser to shop at the full site.

As an experiment, I pulled out my iPad as I wrote this and searched Amazon for Numb3rs Season 1 on DVD. The mobile website returned a list of options with photos and details, one of which was the item I was looking for (Numb3rs The Complete First Season). The app pushed me to choose from a text drop down. I chose Season One and the only thing I was given was a streaming episode I could download for $1.99. It perplexes me why the mobile website and the mobile app don’t return the same results.

Another point of e-commerce confusion lies in the promotional app vs. a full shopping app. For example, Old Navy had a very prominent app over the holidays that led customers to their big sale items. It was an excellent companion for the in-store shopper but not really built for buying clothes for the family.

As the Nielsen chart above shows, a shopping app combined with a mobile e-commerce site is the way to go. The app is perfect for people who want to hone in on deals or browse for popular items and gift ideas. For the more detailed shopper, mobile web is the way to go.

No matter which way you go, as a marketer, it’s your job to make sure that your branded apps and mobile sites are error free, easy to navigate and offer a balance between drill-down details and one-click (or as close as possible) check-out.

The 2012 holiday season will be on us before you know it. Are you mobile ready?

  • I too have found that all too ofter the app doesn’t have as much functionality and isn’t as easy to use as the mobile site. We find that for our customer the mobile site is a win-win; cheaper to develop, easier to use and all mobile users can use the same one (no need to ipad, iphone, android, blackberry etc versions to be built).

    Plus I think that buying habits these days are deal dependent – people shop around. This means that shoppers probably look at a wider range of retailers, and to do all this via apps would take up a lot of space on your device.

    Great article, thanks!

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  • I personally prefer to have the option of choosing between an app and mobile web. Not all retailers have the means to have both, but consumer choice is definitely a plus. I prefer to use a mobile app for stores I use frequently, whereas I would prefer a mobile website for a retailer I seldom use.

    Mosaic Technology

    • Cynthia Boris

      That’s an interesting observation. The apps I’ve seen do seem to tap into the frequent shopper. They’re less detailed, they’re about promos and they’re more like extended advertisements. Also, some of these offer that one click ability if you’ve already shopped with them before.

      Where as the mobile sites have the detail you need if you’re a first timer.