The silent rise of native app builders and the change in the e-commerce web ecosystem

Written by on October 25, 2016

“Our responsive mobile site was really a bad experience for our shoppers. Introducing a native mobile app grew our daily order value 15x!”, says Anshul Maheshwari of Naaniz. An executive of the Habby and Lacy Store shared, “We are able to wall-garden our users in the app and stay on our customers’ devices. It has increased our revenue 30%.”

These are not one-offs. There are definitive benefits commerce businesses are seeing with native mobile apps –  be it a smoother shopping and checkout experience for better conversion, increased trust, stickier users, and of course a captive audience to re-engage/re-market to. It has real impact on revenues and I’ve personally seen this story play out with over a hundred niche mobile-commerce sites now!

So why do we see this difference?

Lazy Attempts of the Past on Mobile:

Mobile app attempts from e-commerce companies trying to make the move have in the past focused on just taking the web or mobile web experience and wrapping it inside the shell of an app. The starting point was always a website and these attempts made were to port the web pages to mobile pages of sorts. For example, we’d have these common interfaces built – Home “page”, category “pages” and product “pages”. These are then integrated with features like wish lists, shopping carts, payment mechanisms and shipping related screens.

But the nature of mobile and the bar end users set for apps today are different. We expect mobile to be more personal, native, location based and broader in use cases.

Personal : When we say personal, we mean it should be specific for every individual – the storefront should resonate with user behaviour. It should provide custom layouts depending on that user’s history and wishlist.

Native: Being native means a variety of things – using power of 3d models, quick browsing, photo editing, use of gyrometer (few use cases), location and a fluid experience overall. Open an app and you can instantly know if it is a hybrid app/ web app pretending to be a mobile app, or a true native app.

Location: The mobile device is always on the user. Access to location provides for experiences like displaying multiple vendors per location, offline store integration, geo-based promotions, and other features. There’s a broader set of capabilities evolving as well, including Quick Offline Billing, smarter product search, and IoT related features.

Broken apps with a web ported experience are more likely to get uninstalled than work to your advantage. In fact, responsive web is a better than forcing an app on users if you don’t want to innovate on mobile, or don’t see it as a growing channel!

Current eCommerce Mobile App Landscape

Native mobile app development is considered to be an expensive and customization driven business. This premise has created two type of companies – (a) big companies focusing on a very high quality native app experience: e.g.: Amazon, Flipkart, Myntra, Snapdeal, PayTM, etc. and (b) Small / niche commerce companies focusing on HTML5 or hybrid apps. Responsive web is good for search engines, page indexing but is still not ideal for retention, user experience and re-engagement.

Of late, many new niche online commerce businesses have emerged in a mature ecosystem. They are mid-scale companies with a decent and distinct product offering which don’t necessarily have the expertise or budget to build a high quality app of their own. They do understand the importance of a quality app, but it isn’t part of their DNA with their focus still on how to expand their catalogues and fix their processes.

The new reality on Mobile for commerce

While the web has evolved for merchants in terms of themes, admin panel, product uploading, payment gateway etc. and has evolved as a place to purchase for end consumers, mobile today is redefining how we think about commerce. Mobile has created a new generation of users with no PC experience or understanding. The fundamental rules of web and mobile are different in ecommerce. For example, web layouts and themes look very different on phone. People don’t “browse” long pages on mobile. Instead, size of product images and quick value proposition is everything on the phone. The lazy models of hybrid, multi-platform and HTML5 are failing because they aren’t mobile-first in their approach. Catalogue management, order management, and many key features are still web driven. Merchants aren’t taking a radical approach on mobile even after knowing that 70% of their sales happen on phones.

Change is coming : Making native mobile apps accessible

There are some players making a difference today to this ecosystem with making the native experience possible within a budget. Here’s a few things merchants should keep an eye out for.

VR Commerce is using devices to develop 3D Models or products for merchants to share within mobile apps. Companies like AppTuse, AppMaker, and my own firm TM Store are providing real native apps for merchants. AppTuse offers an interesting subscription model for the app while TM Store takes a full mobile-first approach to multi-vendor management and product catalog management too.

HTML5 vs Native

HTML5 apps can play the game and disguise as a native experience today. But where does this experience break? We know that something as simple as a “Back Button” on android doesn’t work the way it is intended to on HTML5 because of the need to reload the entire framework. In case of a Native Application it will directly load the layout with a good experience. Many merchants don’t focus on the finer details or what native capabilities mean for their app. Zooming in on a product, using your camera, providing a native mobile messaging experience for support with tools like, posting content easily from the app, are all native experiences that merchants may overlook – underestimating what it means to their customer experience and hence retention.

Native App ecosystem is also missing native themes, layout creators, deeper analytics, product engagement, heat maps, and many tools for merchants. As the ecosystem is evolving and new app builders are coming up, merchants are finally ready to take the risk with a complete mobile-first solution. For some of them, it makes sense to skip the web!

Complete Mobile Outlook

Merchants want four basic components for commerce. Product management, payment mechanisms, Sales Reports, and a Support system integrated within one app. This new architecture of digital commerce is forcing app builders to create more integrated solutions. This new approach with mobile at the center of it is creating new merchants with very low investment in this ecosystem.

Future of the market

I believe we will see two types of apps going forward. One focusing on mobile app as a complete solution for B2C, B2V (vendor) and Reports. This will evolve as community driven marketplace with existing physical consumers and vendors. The second market would be purely like Amazon/Flipkart, which is driven by Push rather than Pull forces.

– A guest post by Virat Singh Khutal, Founder and CEO,

About TM Store:

At TM Store, as we started exploring the opportunity in mobile, we started to notice very disturbing patterns. The market is filled with low quality HTML5 or Hybrid solutions sold to merchants as “mobile app solutions”. This knowledge and technology gap has created a very skewed market for App Builder eco-system. We went digging further in this space and noticed a lot of gaps for other players in eco-system.  Payment, shipment, support and multi-agent vendor management. All of them required a native experience for growth.

To streamline the entire sales and support cycle we need Standardization solutions. At TM Store, with Hotline we have built technology to solve long term problems of merchants for a mobile-first world.

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