Mobile Apps vs. Mobile-Friendly Websites for Ecommerce: What's The Difference?

Explore the difference between a mobile app and a mobile website and see which shoppers prefer. Then, take a look at why mobile apps should be a no-brainer addition to your store’s omnichannel ecommerce marketing mix and how they significantly outperform mobile-friendly websites of brands, especially those on Shopify.

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Regardless of whether a shopper has an iPhone or Android, offering a mobile app is a critical component of your mobile strategy (yes, we don't descriminate against green bubbles... so diplomatic, I know). There’s no better way to increase conversions, improve customer loyalty, and turn your target audience's casual shopping habits into habitual high-spending. In fact, in 2023, consumers spent $100 billion on mobile apps in less time than ever. 

In today's highly competitive (and ultra-crowded) ecommerce landscape, it's more important than ever to have a proven and engaging way to grab your customers’ direct attention, especially as algorithms become trickier and trickier and those acquisition costs increase. Forbes – and every marketing budget on this planet – will tell you that CAC has jumped 222% since 2013.

Here’s what you need to know about mobile apps, mobile websites, and how they stack up in key categories like speed, conversion, and even community building.

How mobile apps compare to mobile-friendly websites | Comparison & Breakdown

Speed: Which is faster?

Mobile apps don’t “lag”—and in today’s world, no customer wants to wait. Mobile apps load instantaneously, making them lightning-fast (up to 6x speedier). The average Shopify load time can be as long as 7.06 seconds… and simply having a load time under 3 seconds would put you in the best-performing 20% of brands.

Pre-downloaded mobile apps are faster than mobile websites

The good news? When it comes to native apps and responsive websites, offline functionality and responsive design ensure that every single page is pre-downloaded and requires literally zero wait time to navigate. That, in and of itself, is going to be a way better customer experience than the frustration that comes with waiting for a mobile website to load.

Modern consumers are impatient, and even the slightest delay can derail an impulsive purchase. Every second your Shopify web page spends loading on your mobile device can result in a 7% loss in your conversions.

Loading time on mobile view can reduce page views

Here's the skinny:loading time is a major player in page abandonment, and just a one-second delay will reduce page views by 11%. Point blank: the faster and more fluid your mobile experience, the longer and higher your customers will shop and convert.

So, what’s slowing your website down for mobile users? Tons of things, including, quite likely, excess code and hefty integrations. To get the facts and figures about your mobile load time, try a speed test or simply open your brand’s website on a cache-cleared mobile browser on both WiFi and your carrier’s mobile network.

Why test on mobile, specfically? Typically, mobile web loads slower than desktop web, so a fast response time from your customers’ desks won’t always reveal what they’ll experience when they’re out and abo

Conversion: Which leads to higher sales?

Mobile app conversions bring richer user experience

A mobile app offers increased conversion opportunities that aren’t found on a mobile website. This is mainly because mobile apps have UI and UX carefully engineered to convert customers, nurture loyalty, and grow a community. It's the same reason why the best mobile app strategies are customer experience-driven: the mobile app has the most potential to provide the best all-around CX… and those conversion opportunities only grow as these customers spend more and more time on the app.

Additionally, mobile apps can easily offer cross-sell and upsell integrations that don’t just make customers more likely to checkout but more likely to spend more…increasing CVR and AOV in the blink of an eye.

One-click checkout and saved account info makes the CX smooth

A big factor in Amazon's success has been the ease of their One-Click Checkout for Amazon Prime members. By adding payment options like Apple Pay, you can recreate this seamless checkout experience and have your customers complete their transactions in seconds. 

Research indicates a one-click checkout button can boost conversion by 60% – so even if you don’t have an app that features frictionless checkout yet, optimizing your mobile website for faster checkout is a worthy investment. On a Shopify website, for example, it’s estimated that offering one-click “Shop Pay” can increase CVR by 50% as compared to regular guest checkout… and that doesn’t even account for all the other little boosts and tweaks your brand can make on its website to boost ease of checkout.

Customer loyalty: What platform nurtures VIPS–and delivers higher conversion rates?

A decrease in website traffic conversion rates not only impacts revenue but also your repeat customer rate. A first-time shopper is 27% more likely to shop a second time, and a second-time shopper is 54% more likely to shop after that. That’s a mighty leap, especially when an average of 41% of ecommerce revenue is driven by repeat customers.

In other words, every time you give those app customers another reason to enter the app — be it an app exclusive launch, early access to a sale, or a push notification — you're giving them another opportunity to engage and convert on a platform already designed to engage and convert better. The end results? Increased AOV and CVR.

How Naked Harvest's mobie app strategy drives LTV and nurtures community

Take, for example, Tapcart customer Naked Harvest. The women's-focused health and wellness brand uses its mobile app to maximize its marketing dollars. While its website has been optimized for first-time shoppers, the app is instead a place for the company to zero in on retention. The result is an increase in CVR, LTV, and GMV (including 142% higher CVR on app vs. mobile web) – allowing the brand to reserve the vast majority of its marketing dollars for acquiring new customers while the app’s content, push notifications, and personalized CX keep VIPs shopping over and over again.

Retention: Which attracts more recurring customers?

Customer retention is increased through push notifications on the mobile app:

It's no secret that the best retention strategies involve a combination of email, SMS, push notifications, and virtually any other means of attracting existing customers’ attention.  

In other words, push notifications are a key player in retaining shoppers, and they are a seamless end-to-end sales channel. By keeping your store top of mind, and directing mobile customers through a fluid browse-to-checkout experience, repeat visits on a user's device are markedly increased. 

Push notifications are widely considered one of the best ways to offset high customer acquisition costs. After all, they’re also incredibly cost-effective.

It can cost between a cent and five cents ($.01 to $.05) to send an SMS text message to a customer–and those costs can really increase as your marketing lists grow. But, unlike SMS text marketing, which gets more expensive the more you scale, the cost of push notifications stays the same no matter how many messages you send.

With push notifications, customers actually see branded, retention-boosting communications

It's no secret that most email inboxes are an absolute mess. Plus, services like Gmail are already filtering our inboxes so that many customers don't see anything sent from businesses and brands at all. And email open rates for ecommerce brands, at best, hover around 40%, with click-through rates, again at best, less than 1.5%. 

What’s more, SMS messages feel spammy and are easy to block, especially if you want to remain in frequent contact with customers. While customers might see them–getting them to act on them (or care about them) is a whole different ballgame. 

But push notifications feel organic and natural and are delivered right to a customer's home screen. Unlike text messages, push notifications aren't sent from some random phone number, and they look great, too. You can include images and GIFs to showcase products and collections, making these messages more dynamic and leading to better click-through rates. (SMS is text only.)

Plus, push notifications lead customers in a single click to exactly where you want them: a mobile platform where they've already proven they'll spend more time and money and check out at a higher rate. Moreover, these customers are arriving at an app that’s been engineered to deliver an immersive and personalized experience that's as seamless and frustration-free as possible, especially at checkout. (More than seven out of ten shopping carts (70%) are abandoned! We know – it’s terrifying!) 

Additionally, push notifications are great at keeping your brand top of mind, even when you aren't trying to sell anything. Brands like Obvi and Naked Harvest are known for sending value-aligned push notifications that don’t promote the products they sell but are still great investments in keeping their customers close, aware, and engaged.

When push notifications are correctly deployed, these messages can lower churn rate, boost LTV, and indirectly lower your cost per acquisition by making those already acquired customers more and more valuable. Win-win-win. 

Community building: Which platform keeps VIPs close long after the customer steps away?

Beyond push notifications, there’s more to the comparison of mobile apps and mobile websites. One major factor in retention? How you build relationships and maximize revenue for each customer. After all, when it comes to creating a scalable business, improving retention by just 1% can lead to a 7% improvement in bottom-line revenue. 

Mobile applications use streamlined shopping, customized experiences, strategic messaging flows, loyalty programs, app exclusives, and more to improve retention. All of these are things you either can’t get with a mobile website or need an integration for, which can slow down your load times and drive customers away before they can spend. 

Push notifications via mobile app help bring those “cut-off” customers back into the fold whenever a brand would like. (It takes literally seconds to create a push notification, and the right AI tools can help you personalize them in a blink, too.)

Personalized CX and integrations are often faster and less expensive on mobile apps vs. web

Mobile applications improve retention through streamlined shopping, customized experiences, strategic messaging flows, loyalty programs, app exclusives, and more. You either can’t achieve these with a mobile website, need to invest heavily in a top-notch developer, or need several web integrations, the latter of which can slow down your load times and drive users away.

 On the other hand, a mobile app allows you to use the integrations you already use and love on your website on the app, too. For example, the loyalty programs and subscription services your customers crave can be integrated into a Tapcart app in minutes – without fear of slowing down your app.

Traffic: Which drives more visitors to your Shopify store?

Mobile app traffic drives repeat business

There's a lot of debate about which platform is the right one to drive traffic mobile traffic to. So, where would you rather send your mobile customers: Your website or your app? Most businesses enjoy significantly higher LTV and AOV on their mobile apps, rendering it a no-brainer to send their best traffic to the mobile app. After all, that channel features the personalized CX that modern consumers crave when shopping on their phones.

Case in point: 300 different randomly sampled Tapcart customers have, on average, a 63% higher CVR in-app than on mobile web, 

Additionally, these shoppers tend to be VIP customers who spend more and shop more frequently. Brands with mobile apps have the power of push notifications to drive these top shoppers to the app on a repeat basis. 

Mobile customers are easier to reach via push

You can try to reach these VIP customers via e-mail or SMS and get them to the website on their phones, but that's become increasingly difficult and expensive in the past few years. Plus, as mentioned, a push notification looks and feels great and can bring the shopper right into the personalized app experience in a single click.

To put it simply, mobile apps push your top traffic into a sales channel where shoppers are not only more likely to convert but are likely to purchase more products more frequently. Push notifications help organically drive top shoppers into your app on a repeat basis, spiking conversions and traffic and making a major impact on your revenue.

Bombshell Sportswear is a great example of this. For the brand, its app customers are returning customers with the highest intent to buy. They are lifetime customers who, when they download the app, self-declare as “loyal.” Being able to communicate directly with them and provide a VIP experience is an essential part of Bombshell’s retention strategy. (99.5% of the brand’s app downloaders opted in to push notifications, allowing Bombshell to send free messages to these VIPs directly to their home screens.)

Personalization: Which platform is more “tailored”--and offers more “brand immersion” to top shoppers?

Mobile websites allow shoppers who are new to your brand to peruse your products from anywhere. After all, it's unlikely a customer will download your mobile app if they've never made a purchase from you. 

But once they have, it's wise to port them to the app immediately. After all, that's where the improved AOV and LTV happen – and that’s where integrations that make genuinely personalized CX possible can be leveraged without sacrificing load time.

Besides, apps have tons of proven ways to boost customer satisfaction and retention, and while many of them involve offline functionality and great customer service, personalized CX is a major player, too. 

Mobile apps are a lower-cost, more “personalized” way to immerse and retain already-acquired customers

Naked Harvest, for example, makes it a top priority to get customers over to the app as soon as possible. As mentioned, its website is a place for first-time shoppers to get acquainted with the brand and its offerings. But, after that first conversion, the brand will pull out all the stops–including promotions, app exclusives, and more—to get those customers over to the mobile app where the experience is going to be top-notch and staying in touch with those customers is going to be lower-cost and more “on brand.”

In summary, mobile websites are just one of many avenues shoppers can purchase your products, and data shows that brands should have multiple omnichannel sales funnels. Mobile apps are an additional high-performing revenue stream catering specifically to top shoppers that should not be left out of your omnichannel mix.

 In other words, everyone (and every channel) should be invited to the party.

Consumers today don’t just want personalization from brands, they demand it

Consumer expectations are changing. Today, modern shoppers are practically demanding personalized customer experience. In fact, according to a McKinsey report, 80% of US adults expect personalization from brands – and if they don’t get it, they may very well shop with a competitor instead. 

That means today’s modern consumer wants a frictionless, highly personalized relationship with a brand. Think: tailored and meaningful communication, relevant offers and deals, and a shopping experience that feels personal. 
Achieving this on a website can cost a fortune… and even then, slow load times and expensive integrations can make such a platform frustrating or out-of-budget. But with a mobile app, you won't have to worry about paying third-party platforms to deliver great and personalized CX.

Instead, your ecommerce app can serve as both a marketing and end-to-end sales channel in and of itself. The platform is designed to drive high-intent (and very lucrative) traffic through it, resulting in higher CVR and AOV than even the best mobile, responsive website.


Key takeaways and stats: Mobile apps vs. responsive websites

If you plan on running a successful ecommerce website – or any website for that matter – you absolutely must cater to mobile users, especially since 81% of Shopify traffic comes from mobile. Even on Black Friday, nearly 54% of online sales came via mobile devices. That’s up 10.4% from the previous year.

Plus, statistics show that 40% of users will go to a competitor after a bad mobile experience, and an alarming 84% have experienced difficulty completing a mobile transaction. That is an extremely high number, and it shows just how great the retention opportunity is for businesses willing to provide excellent CX from day one. 

Want more facts and figures? Here are nine more need-to-know numbers:

  1. 65% of online shopping now occurs on mobile devices
  2. $558.29 billion – that’s the estimated value of mobile shopping sales in the US in 2024
  3. 20.1% of retail sales are expected to happen online in 2024
  4. 34% of shoppers shop online weekly or more
  5. Mobile commerce now accounts for over 50% of all ecommerce transactions
  6. 57% of mobile customers will abandon a website if they have to wait 3 seconds for a page to load
  7. 62% of smartphone users have made a purchase online using their mobile device in the last 6 months
  8. 80% of shoppers used a mobile phone inside of a physical store to either look up product reviews, compare prices or find alternative store locations
  9. Apps remain the most efficient channel for retailers, driving a larger percentage of shoppers down the purchase funnel and converting at 3x the rate of mobile web

Takeaway 1: Mobile apps make payments easier, faster and more secure

When you turn your Shopify store into a mobile app, you can include secure payment options and program the app to remember these options for later shopping experiences. This streamlines the buying process for both the consumer and the merchant while also improving mobile conversion rate.

As previously mentioned, by adding payment options like Apple Pay or other one-click checkout solutions, you can recreate this seamless checkout experience and have your customers complete their transactions in seconds. Apple Pay loads your Apple account information, including your credit card and shipping/billing addresses, so consumers can purchase with just a fingerprint or face ID.

Takeaway 2: Mobile apps allow push notifications

Imagine delivering a streamlined, personal experience designed for a mobile device directly into your customer’s hands. Push notifications do just that and are the perfect way to engage with your repeat customers who have downloaded your app. Email marketing is cluttered, and open rates are far too low. Not only do pushes get ___ better open rates over email campaigns, but they are generally opened in real-time instead of hours, or even days, later.

Additionally, push notifications can be location-based so that you can present customers with special offers when they get near one of your brick-and-mortar stores. Notifications can also be issued when you need to unload some merchandise and run a special sale or offer a promotion to get the word out about a new item.

Takeaway 3: Mobile apps encourage social sharing

Want customers to do your advertising for you by sharing your merchandise on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media sites? Social sharing can be integrated right into your custom mobile app so all of your customers can hype your new product or awesome sale to all of their friends and followers.

Takeaway 4: Users prefer apps to shopping via mobile browsers

When polled, 78% of users said they would rather access their favorite shopping sites via a mobile app than through their mobile browsers. The advantages of mobile apps are that apps make the shopping experience faster and more personalized, and users never have to worry about remembering to log in each time they want to see what’s new or place their usual order.

Takeaway 5: Apps give developers more control over the user experience

Mobile apps allow your developers to design a unique and powerful user experience according to the device the user has. You can control the interface and present a faster service. Apps also allow developers to tailor the experience for the device, which lets you go beyond the limitations of responsive web design and work perfectly with the user’s phone operating system.

Creating a personalized experience that’s unique, but familiar, across devices builds trust in your brand and keeps customers coming back for more.

Takeaway 6: Mobile apps help build brand loyalty

Nothing puts your brand and products front and center like a mobile app that the customer can easily access anytime they use their phone. Apps become like the virtual eyes, ears, and arms of the shopper — these tools are with them everywhere, always. That makes mobile apps a powerful tool for building and nurturing loyal customers.

By offering discounts, early access, or fresh content only available to app users, you can create a sense of exclusivity and give users a reason to keep coming back. Plus, you can use your app as a hub for your community of loyal customers who love your brand enough to give it valuable real estate on their home screen. Take advantage of that by making the experience feel seamless, special, and exclusive. 

About Tapcart

With a mobile app, you no longer have to worry about paying third-party platforms for your customers’ attention. Instead, your ecommerce app is both a marketing and end-to-end sales channel in itself, driving high intent, lucrative traffic, and converting mobile users up to 3x higher than your responsive website.

In a world where acquisition costs continue to skyrocket, there is no shortage of reasons to invite shoppers to an owned mobile platform that converts better, boosts lifetime value, and helps customers feel closer to the brand than ever before. 

To learn more about turning your Shopify store into a plug-and-play mobile app, get in touch with us today.

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