ecommerce mobile appsAll the giants of online retail have their own ecommerce mobile apps, from Amazon to eBay to Walmart. Even some of the not-so-giant online retailers have theirs, to mixed success, which begs the question: should you launch your own app, too?

In this article, we take a serious look at ecommerce mobile apps for small online retailers: are they worth it? Let’s start by taking a look at the big picture — what do you have to gain, and at what costs.


Pros of Ecommerce Mobile Apps

To put a fine point on it, ecommerce mobile apps are designed to facilitate online shopping on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. That’s a big deal, considering that shopping on mobile devices is more popular than even — in fact, mobile sales are expected to reach 45% of all online sales in 2020.

Why not tap into that mobile traffic? After all, you put in all that effort to make your website responsive for a reason, right? Sure, some shoppers would prefer to visit your mobile site rather than downloading a new app on their phone — however, many prefer the convenience, personalization, and security that a separate mobile app provides.

For one thing, apps tend to have better functionality and more convenient interfaces (as long as they’re designed well). Using your mobile website for checkout can be problematic, especially considering that the browser your shopper uses changes the experience. By contrast, it’s easier to predict how your app will appear on devices, especially when you break them up into iOS and Android apps.

Another advantage of apps is they allow you to collect customer data — not in the creepy, invasion-of-privacy way, but in a way your customers prefer. Unlike websites, apps only have one user, making it easy to gather data on the types of products that particular shopper prefers (not to mention their location or shopping style). What you learned then goes towards more personalized product recommendations and a better shopping experience for that individual.

Mobile apps also tend to be safer than their mobile browser page counterparts. That’s not to say shopping in a mobile browser is dangerous, but mobile apps have extra security features that browsers don’t. For example, web pages are subject to Man In The Middle (MITM) attacks, where third-parties can “spy” on information relayed back-and-forth from site to user, often stealing sensitive information. Additionally, apps are immune to phishing attacks; hackers can sneak into your customer’s website account if they have the password, but they’d need your customer’s phone to sneak into the app.


Cons of Ecommerce Mobile Apps

The most glaring disadvantage of ecommerce mobile apps are the costs of development. Financially, the average cost for ecommerce apps fall between $30,000 and $80,000.

There’s also the regular maintenance fees: a rough estimate shows that every year you’ll pay about 20% of the development cost, so if your app costs $50,000 to make, you’ll have to pay about $10,000 annually in maintenance. And don’t forget about production time, which can take months, depending on who is building it (the above article cites 4-6 months as an average).

Of course, those estimates are for building an app from scratch. You can find cheaper options by using an app builder like Mobile Roadie or Build Fire, or merely make a simpler app with fewer features to cut down on production costs. The agency you use, as well, greatly affects the final cost, and many companies look overseas for cheaper outsourcing alternatives.


Are Ecommerce Mobile Apps Right for You?

So, the big question is, should you get an app for your online retail business? There are really 3 factors you need to consider:

Can you afford it? Before answering whether you should use an app, the first question is whether you can. There’s a hefty price tag to launch ecommerce mobile apps, as well as a few months for development. But before you rule it out, consider cheaper options or reduce the scope of the app (i.e., incorporate fewer features so it’s faster to build).

Do you have enough loyal customers? At least when they first launch, ecommerce mobile apps are for your loyal customers: regulars who use your online store enough that setting up your app would save them time. If you’re still in the process of building your customer base and getting your name out there, you might want to invest more in developing a following before developing an app.

Do your customers use shopping apps? Using an ecommerce mobile app is a shopping preference; just like some customers prefer to shop in-store rather than with ecommerce, so too do some customers prefer to use apps than, say, the desktop version of your online store. Before investing in an app, determine whether your shoppers really want it or not. You can ask them directly through customer surveys and email questionnaires, or look for mobile trends in your sales data.

Add it all together, and we can paint a picture of the kind of online retailer who can most benefit from ecommerce mobile apps: an established brand that can afford the investment, and whose clientele favor mobile technology.


Getting Started with Your Ecommerce Mobile App

If you decide to produce an app for your online retail business, you still have a long road ahead. There’s still plenty to ask yourself, like what style to design in, how to go about getting it made, or which features you want to include — for example, augmented reality is a rising trend for mobile ecommerce. Then there are the standard ecommerce concerns for mobile shopping in general, in particular the best mobile payment method for you and how to optimize the mobile checkout experience.


It’s best to review all your options before settling on a path, not only to get the app you want, but also to ensure that you’re using the cheapest methods available and not overpaying.


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