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Do You Really Need An App For That?

| April 16, 2020

There is no shortage of buzz on mobile app development – after all, we’re a digital product agency that specializes in this kind of software so it seems logical that we funnel our prospects towards these endeavors. However, because we are in this business, we can tell you that it’s not always necessary.

Some businesses want an app because… they just do. Some aren’t sure why they want the app but they know that other businesses have them, colleagues might be building apps, and they have apps they like and use every day. Before making the hard decision to pursue a mobile app development project, there are some serious questions to consider that might make you, well, reconsider whether a mobile app is what you need in lieu of a different solution.

What does an app do?

Short of saying “anything,” a mobile app is often an extension of an existing web site or service. Let’s use the Reddit app as an example. It’s simply a mobile interface to interact with the site and subreddits much as you would through the web or a mobile browser. It’s simply a convenient way to take these threads with you on the go which is great if you’re an active user or just a lurker.

In other cases, you have web and mobile-based apps like JIRA, which we at Blue Label Labs rely upon for issue tracking and resolution. Users can access the software through a browser and interact with it this way or they can use the app which has a different and honestly, better, UX than the web-based app.

Too, some apps solely run on a mobile platform like iOS and Android such as Uber. It’s specifically designed to run as a game on a mobile platform hence, it has to be an app. The app makes the most sense as most people aren’t lugging around a laptop everywhere, unlike their smartphone.

Questions to ask before building an app

Using the above examples, ask yourself what it is you’re truly intending to do with your app. Though a mobile app is often a worthwhile investment for some, it is an expensive upfront cost just to get the first iteration out the door.

Let’s look at some of the top reasons you might want to hold off on building an app, whether to favor some other objective or simply because an app isn’t for you.

Who is your audience? Commercial sellers and B2B sellers in certain market spaces conduct business different traditional B2C commerce, whether looking at brick-and-mortar establishments or resellers. Your app might go highly unused if your selling staples have always been direct sales efforts and catalogs – transitioning to an app could be more convenient but user adoption can be tricky. While there is a push to move toward more digital models, there could be an exceptionally slow churn for the ROI is your audience isn’t ready to handle business through an app.

The same issue can be observed with B2C businesses as well. In some cases, your existing model (i.e. purchasing with a form, through a web site, over the phone, etc.) might be best supplemented with additional investments in marketing rather than building a platform that might go underutilized. 

Are you a small retailer? If you’re Amazon and you run an insane amount of web servers behind load balancers that are carefully networked to deliver constant uptime, then go for it. But if you’re a small shop, you might want to pump the brakes.

Small sites – especially for businesses that have a physical location – might not get the full benefits that others enjoy with a mobile app. The charm of certain stores (maybe you’re one of these locations) can be a selling point as can certain staff members who excel at customer service. In these cases, invest in your location and people, especially if you’re uncertain as to whether your customer base would enjoy having a digital option as well.

Are you fine with paying commissions? When you sell in-app, you’re usually subject to a 30% commission fee from Google or Apple. If you’re looking to sell products like digital content, you might be best off with something like a mobile-optimized site to avoid the seller fees. Services and products with a low profit margin per item are usually best being sold through other means so you don’t have to charge customers extra to make up for the difference.

Is your website optimized for mobile? Great content, fast speeds, and clean interfaces are the bedrock for a good, mobile-optimized site. However, all sites need to be optimized for mobile devices as well.

Google and other search engines will ding you if your site isn’t well designed for people to interface with a web browser which affects your ranking on any given search engine results page (SERP.) More importantly, it can be a hassle for people who try to interact with elements as if they’re on a much larger screen. Depending on your business, a well-optimized site can translate to more sales when your customers don’t give up out of frustration from a poor UX.

Do you offer an on-demand service? If so, what is the nature of your service? For those that need a real-time interface like Uber, Doordash, or other “this minute” services, you will need an app. If you’re not offering an on-demand service, you might not an app to supplement your business.

For example, if you’re selling machine parts to manufacturing customers that might need to make unplanned repairs at a moments notice,  you might want to mimic the Amazon Prime service and develop a sophisticated app where users can accurately order a part and have it in their hands as soon as possible. If you’re selling items that don’t lack this level of high-priority, you might just want to invest more in your site to ensure it’s as easy as possible for customers to order over a desktop or mobile browser.

Is there something else that might work better than a mobile app? Some service providers fill niches that might not translate well to a mobile app. For example, certain TV apps are better suited for big-screen viewing and not work so well on an app for a tablet or smartphone.

The nice part is that technologies like React Native and Firebase have mostly killed single-platform development. So you can aim for something suited for a bigger screen but also have apps available for smaller devices with minimal effort compared to developing a unique solution from the ground up (e.g. developing something for an Android TV and also wanting it to run on iOS.)

Sometimes, marketing people can get carried away with delusions of grandeur that come from having your own app “like everyone else” when the reality is that working ‘better’ or more efficiently can help these endeavors. Say you’re simply trying to get more video content in front of your consumers – you don’t need an app, you need a YouTube or Vimeo account and a mobile-optimized site with the correct plugins (or native tools like those found in WordPress) to get said content in front of your audience.

Finally, a mobile site allows you to better leverage the power of search engines through SEO. Google can index an app page but that’s about it. The more content you put on the web, the larger your footprint and the easier it is for your prospects to find you.

Blue Label Labs can talk you out of your app

It sounds weird, but we don’t want you to invest in something that’s only going to be an ongoing expense with an insufficient return. Get in touch with us and let’s discuss your options before you decide to pull the trigger on something you might later regret.

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