Mobility

Flipkart takes aim at the mobile web

One massive retailer is going app-only in India. Should you follow?

Mobile

For those that agonize over the dying of the Web, I have bad news for you: it may already be dead. At least, in India.

Flipkart
Flipkart, the Amazon.com of India, recently decided to go all-app on mobile, dumping its mobile website. While the company retains its desktop website, it has clearly signaled its intentions. Visitors to flipkart.com on mobile devices are routed to the appropriate app store.

Is this a trend? And, if so, is it one that you should follow?

A mobile passage to India

As for whether Flipkart's dumping of its mobile website constituting a trend, the obvious answer is no. But given Flipkart's outsized influence on the Indian market, and the $1 billion war chest it raised in 2014, it's very possible that its action could spark a trend.

Already, Flipkart has issued orders to Myntra, the fashion retail website it acquired in 2014, to go app-only. Today, Myntra drives 80% of its traffic (and 60% of sales) through its mobile app, a number the company is trying to nudge to 90% of traffic by the end of 2015.

Once it does, it's "Alavidā" to the mobile site, according to sources familiar with the matter.

As important as mobile is to established markets in Europe and North America, however, it's driving a boom in developers in India and other emerging markets. As I've written, more developers joined the Android community — the preferred platform for developing economies — in 2014 than did iOS and Amazon's respective communities combined, as Appfigures data shows.

In such markets, mobile devices are often the only route to market, since customers may not be able to afford laptops or desktops, and they depend on their phones for all computing needs. And while it's possible to build web experiences that don't depend on pristine cellular coverage, not necessarily a given in parts of India, it's often easier for developers to encase that experience in apps (native, hybrid, or web).

Should you follow?

Whether your company is based in Bombay or Boston, it's not a given that you should go all-in on apps.

In fact, I recently wrote that companies should actively question whether an app is The Right Answer for all their customer engagement needs.

As the head of mobile at one large retailer told me, his board wants to hear about mobile apps, but 90% of his mobile traffic is to their mobile website. Clearly an app-only strategy is the wrong one for this particular company, and perhaps for yours, as well.

The answer, unsatisfying as it may be, is almost always "It depends."

For Flipkart, its customer base is highly mobile and dedicated to its app. For most companies, whether retailers or financial services firms or otherwise, you need to figure out how your customers prefer to access your content/data.

For example, John Bollen, Chief Digital Officer for MGM Resorts, spoke at Adobe Summit last week and told the audience that while the company is committed to apps in some scenarios, its customer base visits Vegas infrequently, perhaps every other year. As such, they're unlikely to keep an MGM Resorts app on their phone all the time.

In addition, the content in the MGM Resorts app would need to change constantly, as the venue always has new shows, specials at restaurants, etc. All of this means that the company optimizes for its mobile website, while still committing to a mobile app for an off-site experience (e.g., gambling).

In sum, your business may look more like MGM Resorts, or it may look more like Flipkart. Where you fall on the customer engagement spectrum will determine the right mix of app and web, and it requires real thinking to get this right.

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About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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