There’s no doubt mobile shopping apps are big business. Since 2008 when consumers were first able to download apps from the Apple store, Google Play store and Android phone, the apps store had over 10,000 apps within 6 months of opening.

With the ever-increasing rise of online traffic coming from mobile devices (mobile now surpasses desktop search!) a significant proportion of mobile revenue is coming from mobile apps.

But a key question remains for many retailers. If, and when should they should consider building a mobile app? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons.

There’s three options for online retailers to consider.

A native app, is designed to run on a specific mobile operating system and if developed well, should run seamlessly without error, accessing all the functionality of the chosen device. However, native apps can be expensive if you want to run your app across different operating systems. You’re likely to have to develop the app multiple times to be compatible with Windows, iOS and Android for example. Time consuming and potentially quite costly.

Hybrid apps, are created to work across several platforms and written in a more universal code that is then designed to be implemented across multiple platforms. If it’s not developed correctly however users can face serious challenges on usage and it can in the long run be an expensive option for online retailers.

Responsive website design; done correctly will deliver similar functionality to an app and if a mobile first approach is adopted at the creative stages, a mobile experience via responsive design can deliver similar results to a dedicated mobile app, offering a more simplified and pared down user journey versus the desktop version of the same website.

There are drawbacks of course, a responsive designed website cannot be made available through an app store and users need constant connectivity to use the website, not a problem where mobile broadband is wide spread, but a key consideration for entering developing markets.

“Apps reliant on downloads could be considered a barrier to purchase, particularly in the case of new acquisitions, so our recommendation is a strong responsive site that is mobile optimised is still required for initial conversion.” Comments Robert Williams, CEO at Williams Commerce.

“In our experience, established B2Bs or a brand with high recognition, an app would certainly be an appropriate next step for a business to continue growing sales through their mobile channel.  However, our marketing team who works on Conversion Rate Optimisation for many of our clients will continue to drive performance on responsive mobile design as hard as possible.”

However, one final thought.  With users accessing 30 or more apps a month and near quarter of a million apps being released every year, will apps reach a point of saturation? And will mobile optimised responsive design continue to grow in sophistication to the point of making apps redundant and therefore obsolete?

Perhaps so, but in the meantime, online retailers need to look at the options available, from choosing the best approach for your business model, that also meets the needs of your budget constraints.

Putting your shoppers needs at the very heart of your decision should continue to be absolutely key.