The prime directive of retailers, both brick-and-mortar and online, is simply to make sales. Prior to the rise of mobile technology, online retailers depended on slick, sleek, and sexy websites to convert visitors into loyal customers. As such, they have invested heavily in making their sites searchable, usable, and engaging.
While statistics show that consumers still overwhelmingly prefer traditional browsing (i.e., desktop PCs) over mobile platforms to do their shopping, there is an increasing trend to go multi-platform. This means that the transition from desktop to mobile devices needs to be seamless, a challenge for mobile app developers.
US retailers saw a 71 percent growth in mobile revenue in 2013 compared with the previous year. The top-ranking mobile seller is Apple, which posted a 25 percent growth in 2013. The Amazon App Store, which came in second, outperformed Apple by doubling its sales in the same year. It is estimated that mobile sales will start to outpace desktop PC sales in the very near future. Many older estimates had 2014 as the year the script would be flipped.
The future of mobile sales appears assured, but the question at this point is whether investing in a mobile app will increase sales for online retailers, and if so, what would be the most effective platform for distributing an e-commerce mobile application?
It might behoove us, before figuring out the best platform of distribution for a potential e-commerce mobile application, to take a closer look at some of the numbers for mobile commerce, just to make sure it's a trend that's likely to stick around.
In a survey of the top 500 online retail merchants, the most impressive mobile sale growth was snagged by Market America, which in terms of revenue ranked 250th. Its revenue, however, jumped almost 600 percent in 2013, posting $7.4 million in sales.
And why did Market America fare so well? The company attributes no small part of this massive jump to its mobile app, which brought in one-fifth of its annual mobile commerce sales.
Bottom lines and growth are all well and good, but what about your customers? What is your target market likely to think about shopping with their phones? Let's get a better understanding of the research concerning consumers.
Current research shows that nearly half of all consumers use their smart phones to access a store's mobile site and get information on available products, deals, discounts, and sales. Shopping-related mobile apps such as Shopkick, RetaiMeNot, and Dealnews enjoy high traffic volumes. Researchers attribute such high volumes to the convenience and ease of use of e-commerce applications for consumers with mobile devices.
Approximately one-third of surveyed consumers confirm that they intend to buy products and services using their mobile devices. Nearly half of smartphone owners surveyed prefer to visit a store's mobile website, followed closely by those who prefer to use a mobile app to engage with a retailer (38 percent). So at this point, it's almost a race between mobile app development and responsively designed websites to see who can gain the most loyal users.
It is also important to consider the times of day when customers switch from traditional to mobile use. Desktop PCs get heavy usage during working hours, when customers are most probably not surfing to buy. It becomes kind of obvious that you're not working as hard as you should be when you're pulling out your credit card, after all.
In the morning and evening, though, when people are presumably at leisure, the tablet and smart phone is preferred. These are the times when the prospect of a sale is at its highest.
I'll go ahead and imagine that you're thoroughly convinced of the necessity of some sort of mobile strategy. While responsive design is less expensive, it's important to remember that you get what you pay for. Mobile app development offers superiority in speed, functionality, and flexibility. For e-commerce, it's almost certainly the way to go.
In general, developers focus more on iPhone apps because the iOS platform is often perceived as more popular, but in fact, Android users comprise nearly 80 percent of the market share for mobile devices. For an online retailer who wants to make sales, it makes sense to choose a platform for a mobile e-commerce app that will reach more people. There is, after all, no reason why an iOS version cannot be developed, and converted for compatibility with Amazon's Kindle, or Android operating systems. It's a three-for-one proposition that online retailers who are considering mobile app development should look into.
The next step in increasing sales through mobile e-commerce is to determine which app store is most likely to provide the best exposure for your mobile app and consequently for your online store.
The three most popular app providers are as follows:
A Pfeiffer report compiled in 2013 compared the three providers in terms of maturity. The Amazon App Store rated third (34.1) but only 19 points behind the top-rated provider (53.1), the Apple iOS App Store. This is expected to change in the near future as Amazon steps up its efforts to encourage mobile app developers to use the App Store to distribute their mobile e-commerce apps. The current promotional push is being called App Store Developer Select. Amazon's strategy includes exclusive promos, cash backs and marketing assistance to increase exposure of the customer's app to Amazon store visitors.
The biggest problem with Amazon App Store is that, in a lot of ways, it is still a work in progress. Providing good exposure for the apps in its database has been of particular concern thus far. Amazon does not yet have the intuitive infrastructure that helps users find the right apps for them. But because the landscape is constantly changing, and mainly due to the huge efforts that Amazon is currently making, it is only a matter of time before Apple and Google will be facing a much more formidable competitor for the top position as provider of mobile apps.
There was a time not so long ago when mobile apps came at a premium, and only companies with deep pockets could afford them. Nowadays, however, there are tools available for DIYers who have no knowledge of codes or programming. For those who prefer to hire professionals, an assortment of companies provide this service at rates even a small business can afford.
Mobile apps and e-commerce are becoming closely intertwined because of today's freewheeling and fast-paced lifestyle combined with innovations and increasingly available mobile technologies. Consumers love the convenience and efficiency of online shopping, and are quickly realizing that mobile apps can make it even more convenient and efficient.
While using mobile apps to increase sales is even now in the beginning stages, it is easy to see that it will become a greater influence on market behavior in the very near future. Developing a mobile e-commerce app now will encourage repeat customers, improve engagement, and increase sales.
Want to learn more about mobile commerce? Take a look at more SaleHoo educational resources.