App-solutely Not

Why jumping on the Android and iPhone application bandwagon may not be right for your store

If you’ve ever downloaded an app on your iPhone, you’ve probably thought, “We need one of these for our store!” Apps are fun and easy to use, and the best ones get a lot of attention. Considering that a third of U.S. citizens now carry a smartphone and that mobile Web traffic tripled in 2010, creating an app for your business seems to make sense. However, in a ­jeweler’s long list of digital marketing priorities, the coveted app should rank relatively low.

One of the biggest risks of focusing on what’s new and hot is that we tend to overlook the essentials like our own website. An app seems alluring, but more often than not, it will distract you from achieving your goals. To put things in perspective: In 2010, only 4 percent of all Web traffic came from mobile phones, while a whopping 96 percent came from traditional computers.

This shouldn’t, however, keep you from taking the mobile arena seriously. While 4 percent seems small, mobile Web traffic tripled last year, and studies suggest it will close in on desktop usage by 2015. You also need to make sure you are ready for mobile users as Web-savvy shoppers increasingly look to their phones to guide purchases.

But make no mistake—there is a big difference between an app and the mobile Web. A native application can be downloaded onto your phone—for example, the Facebook app on iPhone—creating an icon that lives on one of the  phone’s primary screens. The mobile Web uses the browser that’s built into your phone to connect to the Internet much like you surf the Web on your desktop computer. If you’ve ever ­visited traditional websites on a smartphone, you know they can be ­downright unusable. This is why a mobile site—a pared-down version of your website optimized for phone screens of various sizes—is more important than ever. Need inspiration? Use your smartphone to browse the websites for Best Buy, Volkswagen, and H&M for some excellent examples of how businesses can use the mobile Web.

It’s not that the app is a bad idea—it’s just a bad starting place. More often than not, a local jeweler uses a website as an acquisition tool for new customers. This is where the mobile Web excels: It gives untethered shoppers relevant information on the fly. That’s why jewelers would be better off ensuring that their websites are easy to locate and navigate with mobile browsers. Anyone who uses a smartphone knows that, when you want to find a local store, you are 100 times more likely to go to your browser or Google maps than to Apple’s App Store. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes; think about the information they want—location, hours, contact numbers, lines carried—and display it front and center on a site optimized and simplified for the mobile Web.

There are real benefits to apps. A customer who downloads your app shows a tremendous loyalty to your brand, forging deeper engagement and interactions. In fact, if your marketing focuses entirely on customer retention or e-commerce, you really should consider an app. But for most jewelers, this likely represents a small audience.

You’re better off focusing your efforts on the mobile Web. When it comes to digital marketing, goals should always take priority over trends.

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