Finding the right tools to communicate with your business’ customers is crucial if it is to succeed in the long term. For almost every business in the 21st century, this means having a presence online, either through a website, social media accounts, or both.
Some go further and develop an app for smartphones, meaning customers have a quick and convenient way to interact with your services. However, you may not need one. In the early days of Apple’s App Store, there was a rush for every business to release its own app, even if it wasn’t necessary. Most were used infrequently and many businesses have even discontinued their apps.
Today, your default position should be to not develop an app, unless one of these conditions apply.
Using the Native Features of the Device
You may need to use a mobile app if you want to take advantage of the sensors and features that are built into the native functionality of the operating system. While websites can access location data through mobile browsers, they don’t have the option to utilize other sensors or use features like full-screen mode.
If you need to use these to offer your customer a good experience, then a mobile app could be the right option for you.
Some examples of when it’s necessary to use an app to access native functionality include:
- Mobile games – since they need to directly address the graphics processing unit, use the whole display, and read data from the accelerometer and other sensors. Examples of these kinds of apps include PokerStars, Mario Kart Tour, and OpenTTD.
- Transport apps – these need access to your GPS data even when you don’t have it open, to give you up to date navigation information. This can’t usually be done through a mobile website. Examples of this type of app include Waze, Citymapper, and Google Maps.
- Measuring apps – these are often used in the construction industry to ensure designs are accurate. They need access to the device’s camera and other settings.
Providing Regular Push Notifications
It is possible to send push notifications through mobile browsers like Chrome, but they’re not very reliable and don’t offer the same level of interactivity. If you need the ability to send regular alerts to your customers, perhaps to order updates or to advise them of messages they’ve received, then an app is the most reliable way to achieve it.
Push notifications are popular for messaging apps, social networks, and email services like Whatsapp, Instagram, and Gmail. They’re also commonly used by e-commerce brands like Amazon, who send push notifications to let customers know their order has been dispatched.
Push notifications can also be useful for alerting customers to sales and promotions, with a high degree of confidence that they will actually see the message.
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A High Degree of Customisation is Needed
If your customers receive a highly customized service then an app may be the only practical way to do this. Apps make it easier for the user to remain signed in than in a web browser, as cookies can expire or be cleared.
It’s easier to offer personalized recommendations for new products/services through an app. This can also help improve your conversion rates.
Mobile sites only work when they’re connected to the internet. Of course, most smartphones have an always-on internet connection, but occasionally there’s no WiFi and there’s poor coverage for cellular data.
Depending on how they’re programmed, apps can continue to offer some functionality without the internet. For example, a shopping app could provide a customer’s order history when offline by caching this information on the device.
One argument for using an app that’s less about functionality and more about marketing is that apps give you brand presence. Since it is installed on the user’s device and shows up on their home screen and/or list of applications, apps can provide regular exposure to the brand.
Even if the user doesn’t open the app regularly, they are receiving daily reminders of the existence of your business. This can be useful, as it puts your business in the “right place at the right time” when the customer does have a need for your business.
There will always be exceptions to this rule, but for most uses, a mobile website is much more practical than an app. They are cheaper to develop, easier to update, and more easily accessed by your customers. Apps should be reserved for the occasions when they are going to be most effective so you don’t disappoint your customers with a poor user experience.