Native Mobile App vs. Responsive Website vs. Mobile Theme for Magento

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If you’ve read the headlines, you realize by now that mobile commerce is here to stay. Goldman Sachs predicts retail mobile commerce sales (excluding travel and excluding digital goods such as music and apps) will reach $204 billion in 2014, jump 45.9% to $298 billion in 2015, increase 39.1% to $415 billion in 2016, rise 24.4% to $516 billion in 2017, and jump 21.3% to $626 billion in 2018. Mobile commerce will represent 27.2% of e-commerce sales in 2014, 33.9% in 2015, 40.5% in 2016, 43.8% in 2017, and 46.6% in 2018.

With these numbers in mind, building out, or optimizing (if you already have a mobile presence) your mobile experience is a prudent business investment. If you’re operating a Magento website, or in the market for building one, you’ll want to consider the implementation options for your mobile channel. First of all, checking your web analytics to verify the percentage of your visitors that are using mobile devices to access your website is a good start.

Options for building out your Magento mobile site include:

  • Responsive Website
  • Native Mobile App
  • Magento Mobile Theme

 

Pros & Cons

A responsive website allows you to manage one set of code for all browser sizes and devices. For instance, when you resize your browser, or jump onto a mobile or tablet device, a responsive website will essentially conform to the browser size and still look and function well. On the other hand, Mobile Apps and Mobile Themes are built specifically for mobile devices. Below is a quick list of some pros and cons for each:

Responsive Website

Pros:

  • Only one code base required to run site on mobile, tablet and web. Hence maintenance is easier and more cost effective, and less error prone.
  • Search engine optimization for mobile is the same as for your website, so there is no additional SEO work involved.

Cons:

  • There can be a larger initial investment in re-creating your Magento site as a responsive site, but if you are just starting out, building your site as a responsive website is much simpler.
  • Since a responsive website is design to work with all browser types and devices, you’ll have less control over the interface compared to a Mobile App or Mobile Theme.

 

Mobile Theme

Pros:

  • Ability to tailor the buying experience to mobile users.
  • Ease of implementation.

Cons:

  • Any front-end customizations you make to your website will need to be done as a separate effort for the mobile theme, which will double your costs whenever anything needs to be added or changed.
  • In some situations, it will be more complicated to manage your SEO efforts with mobile themes, as they tend to have their own subdomain (eg. m.yoursite.com) and can cause issues with search engine indexing.

 

Mobile App

Pros:

  • Near perfect control over the mobile user experience.

Cons:

  • Of the 3 options, this will be the most expensive in terms of initial investment and maintenance. It can only be justified if you have a large customer base using your mobile app, and if your product or service lends itself to leveraging the power of apps (such as geo-location, highly customized interfaces and/or interactivity).
  • You will need to direct traffic to the app, since it will not appear in search engines.

 

Conclusion

Overall, we recommend going with a responsive website in the context of Magento Commerce. If you have a highly specialized product where you could potentially increase conversion rates by harnessing the many features available in Mobile Apps, that is also a consideration.