Having It All: The Mobile App vs. Mobile Website Debate

Peter Furey
On: 26 Apr 2018
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Mobile apps are a hot topic for businesses, but that can mean getting your fingers burned. Before you leap into an investment in a bespoke mobile app, it’s worth considering all their advantages and disadvantages, and whether a mobile website might better suit the needs of your business.

If you are at the point where you are weighing up whether your business needs a mobile website or a mobile app, know that there is no definitive right or wrong answer. It entirely depends on your particular business, but I will outline some ways you can work out the right answer for your business. Ultimately – as with many of the business decisions you have to make – all you can do is listen to all the informed arguments, weigh-up the pros and cons, and then make your own choice.

At least this decision doesn’t have to be an either/or, it’s not irreversible and it’s not a once-in-a-lifetime choice.

Apps for apps sake.

One definite is that you should never build a mobile app just for the sake of it or because you’ve seen other businesses have one. It may be the right thing for them, but not necessarily for you, so don’t be swayed unless it would have tangible benefits for your business.

Consider the following…

How often your customer interacts with your business.

If your product or service is something your customers buy or use daily or weekly, then an app will save them time. Their regular use of the app would repay the time and effort investment the customer has made downloading, setting up and keeping the app on their phone.

For example, the 3Plus app gives Three customers new offers and discounts on a very regular basis. Its frequency of use makes it invaluable as an app. However, if your product/ service is only bought or used a few times a year, an app could be more of a nuisance than a benefit.


Your business strategy.

Even if yours is not a frequently used product or service, you may decide to put apps at the core of your business strategy. You might be thinking that contradicts everything you’ve just read and yes it does, but being contrary is sometimes a very effective way to build a business; take Michael O’Leary and Ryanair for example.

As long ago as 2016, O’Leary said that the MyRyanair app would become more important to the business than selling flights. Made core to their business strategy, the app enabled them to offer – in addition to the expected airline-related services such as flight booking and digital boarding passes – value-added services such as car hire, hotel booking and airport transfers.

If you have a strong strategy with the app at the centre of it, it could be transformative for your business.

Your willingness and ability to invest.

Despite what many people think, a mobile app is not a one-off cost. Mobile hardware and software are constantly evolving and that means – unless you want your app to be slow, clunky and likely to malfunction – you have to continually work on it and keep up with all the smartphones’ operating system and feature updates.

What about the website?

Now you know having an app isn’t easy but that doesn’t mean a mobile-responsive website is the poor relation. You also don’t have to choose one over the other. In fact, it’s best to think of them each having a specific function – making them not alternatives to each other but complementary.

While a mobile app is ideal for meeting specific customer requirements that occur regularly – such as purchasing, redeeming offers, checking or paying a utility bill – a mobile website is essential for your business’ online presence.

A mobile website will show up in search engines, and can rank highly with good SEO. It’s your online brand presence and often your first point of contact with new customers. It will be around for the long-term with relatively low maintenance required. It also doesn’t require downloading and if developed well can be easy to update.

Hopefully I’ve illustrated that the decision to have a mobile website, mobile app or both entirely depends on the circumstances of your business.

See what our Customer Insights Panel had to say about great business decision making here.