Should Your Business Make a Mobile App? Here’s How to Know

iPhone screen with various mobile apps for different businesses

Phones are everywhere, and it may seem yours is the only business left that doesn’t have its own app. But do you really need one?

Many brands, particularly ones that wish their websites generated more business, have embraced mobile apps as a way to reach new audiences. For some companies, apps help to streamline the customer experience, while for others, apps give another means to advertise a core product lineup.

Still, the decision is worth a cost-benefit analysis. Many companies ask, “should we make a mobile app?” without looking at all the pros and cons. Here’s how to know if developing a mobile app is right for your business.

Reasons to Make a Mobile App

Apps are an investment—they take time and money to develop and maintain—but they can pay off for your business in several ways.

Potential Sales or Marketing Tool

Businesses depend on strong channels for marketing and sales. There are opportunities for mobile apps to provide this. Many small and medium businesses (SMBs) especially wonder if they should make a mobile app to capitalize on customer loyalty programs and an omnichannel sales approach.

  • Marketing

If someone has taken the time to install your app, it means you have their attention and that they already have warm feelings toward your brand. Push notifications consistently have higher open rates and faster reaction times than emails, giving you a surefire way to maintain awareness of your brand.

The trick, of course, is to find balance. A few notifications each week is plenty. Too many will cause users to disable notifications or even delete your app, but if your business genuinely has new promotions or news items on a weekly basis, an app could make sense.

  • Sales

In 2021, 72.9% of online sales were from mcommerce (mobile commerce). This stat is skewed somewhat due to the rise of mobile-first approaches in emerging ecommerce markets, but even in established markets, mobile shopping is an essential component of the consumer experience.

Mobile apps make a customer’s journey more convenient, often speeding up checkout and easily displaying the recent purchase history. Especially if your business involves food service or consumable products with frequent reordering, apps can be highly beneficial.

Maintain Customer Relationships

Good relationships with customers will go a long way to keeping them. One way of maintaining these relationships is by having a direct channel to do so. A major pro of developing a mobile app is the ability to dialogue with prospective and existing customers.

We should ask ourselves, why make a mobile app to connect with customers when there are already plenty of social media platforms available? But most customers see an app as a more direct and private way to interact with a company, especially for customer service issues. If your app makes it simple to get in touch for any order-related issues or product troubleshooting, customers will find the app valuable.

A mobile app showing an option to contact customer service

Provide a Unique User Experience

While websites can be effective, they are designed to run within browsers. Web browsers have limited functionality and allow little creativity in the way users can interact with content.

Mobile apps, on the other hand, have greater flexibility in both design and how users interact. Smartphones allow for gestures, swiping, tapping, pinching, and shaking—all of which can be incorporated into the user interface (UI) of the app. 

Instead of being limited within the design parameters of what the browsing software allows, an app can be built from the ground up to provide a customized style. A well-designed one can also blend a company’s brand into the design of the app as well as the icon that users click on.

Should a business wish to make a mobile app that takes advantage of phone features, like location services, the app developers can include that functionality. If your company has the budget—or the in-house development team—to make an app that is distinct from the normal web browsing experience, it could be well worth the investment.

Main screen of Forbes mobile application

An app optimized for a mobile experience instead of viewing the page in a browser

Positive Numbers for Mobile Apps

Perhaps the most compelling argument in the pros-and-cons debate for developing a mobile app is in the data. For both traditional shopping and ecommerce, a well-designed mobile app can generate positive returns.

Nearly 90% of mobile internet time is spent in apps, not browsers. If you want customers to engage with your brand on mobile, having an app may open the door.

Also, about 85% of online shoppers say they prefer apps to mobile sites. This is a significant percentage and may be due to the simplicity and accessibility apps can provide. Whatever the reason, it should certainly influence our business decision to make a mobile app.

Reasons to Consider Alternatives

The reasons to build a mobile app are compelling. Still, instead of going solely with the pros of developing a mobile app, there are both cons and alternatives to consider as well.

A Website is Simpler

When building a mobile app, there are two primary platforms to consider—iOS and Android. Each mobile app created for a particular version is specific to its associated device. Therefore, two versions of the same app are needed to cover audiences from both platforms.

Websites, on the other hand, are universal. Other than having a responsive design, developers can generally make one site that will accommodate both mobile and desktop browsing.

From a developer’s perspective, it is certainly easier—and cheaper—to make one website than to maintain multiple apps. If your business has limited marketing resources, this is an important consideration.

Not Every Industry Necessitates a Mobile Experience

There are times that decisions are made for fear of missing out (FOMO). After all, if everyone else seems to be doing it, it must be the right thing to do. That, of course, is not necessarily good business sense.

In reality, businesses should only make a mobile app if it makes sense to do so. There are several questions to ask before deciding whether or not to make the investment.

  • Does a mobile app offer your business anything beyond what a website does?

If you spend some time pondering this question and a reason doesn’t jump out, then the answer is likely no. If you believe your current solution is falling short, there are quicker and cheaper ways to address it. For one, optimizing or upgrading your website can generate more leads.

For certain businesses, such as a repair service, customers are unlikely to make weekly recurring purchases, and push notifications will have little effect.

  • Does any potential benefit justify the cost?

The urge to jump on the mobile app bandwagon does come at a price. Even a simple app can range from $25,000 to $50,000 in development costs. Add another device platform or increase the app’s complexity, and the cost goes up. Businesses should only make a mobile app when the benefits justify the cost, and an app may not be worthwhile if a strong alternative exists.

Consider Alternatives to Mobile Apps

There are many channels available for marketing beyond either mobile apps or websites. For example, social media and various direct-to-consumer marketing channels such as email have consistent success in many industries.

Of course, there’s still the option to redesign or optimize that website. That said, if there are features of mobile apps that are desirable, then there exists another solution.

Progressive Web Apps (PWAs) offer some of the benefits of both the mobile app and mobile website worlds. Developed typically using Javascript along with HTML, PWAs are websites with added functionality coded into them. 

Starbucks progressive web app coffee menu

It’s really the features of a PWA that stand out from a typical website. They can have some capabilities similar to mobile apps, such as push notifications, and they can include offline content. 

PWAs are still cross-platform like regular websites which, as mentioned, is an advantage over platform-specific mobile apps. Also like websites, PWAs can be optimized for search. They also take less development time and typically come in at a much lower cost.

Like developing a mobile app, PWAs have both pros and cons. Still, if you need more features than a typical website but don’t require the full device integration of a mobile app, they are a good alternative.

Even if you decide to go the mobile app route, also having a PWA presence can give an additional channel that can be optimized like any website. It can mimic the look and feel of the app and even suggest users downloaded the app from the Apple or Google store. This may actually provide a better way for your product to stand out among the vast sea of apps.

Do What’s Right for Your Business

There are valid reasons why a business should or should not make a mobile app. Mobile apps cost more and require longer development times, but they can offer a unique user experience. Mobile-friendly websites are more cost-effective and are platform independent, but also come with their own limitations. The branding of websites and social media pages may not scream as loudly as mobile apps, but their maintenance is typically easier.

In the end, you should go with what works for your business. Even if you decide on a mobile app, you’ll certainly want to maintain a website to complement it. There are many ways to design and optimize your website. Explore BESTWEB and discover plenty of other ideas to maximize your online presence.