Desktop Vs. App: Which Strategy Is Best For India’s Businesses?


November 15, 2016

Suparna Goswami, Forbes India
Bengaluru, 15 November 2016

Last month, Grofers, one of India’s biggest online grocery delivery services, scrapped its app-only strategy to launch a working desktop site. Previously, their website had not supported purchases, opting in favor of a mobile-only system.

Similarly last year, Flipkart-owned Myntra — India’s largest fashion e-commerce marketplace — announced its plan to go app-only. The company said it was meant to improve personalization, as well as benefitting Myntra as users were forced to download the app. Competition would be pushed out as customers would be more captive in a specific environment and shopping around for discounts would lessen.

Similarly to Grofers, however, the move to adopt app-only backfired. Within a year, Myntra’s plan had to be rolled back and the company was forced to launch its mobile website again.

This has left experts wondering if India is ready for an app-only e-commerce platform. And as expected, “probably not” has been the popular sentiment from the e-commerce industry. For one thing, the most popular phones among Indians are feature phones, which cannot support apps and lack the advanced functionality of the newer smartphones. The percentage of smartphone users in the country is just 29.8% of total cell phone adopters. Even within this group, the majority own low-end smartphones which cannot support more than four or five working apps. This often leads to a high uninstall rate, which makes customer retention difficult.

So, if a company plans to go app-only, it risks missing out on a potentially wide market of customers, particularly in the likely event their app does not happen to be among the top four or five apps of choice for a user.

Additionally, an app-only model may have issues reaching consumers across the entire spectrum of platforms like Android, iOS or Windows, even if they do own a high-end smartphone. Albinder Dhindsa, founder at Grofers, admits the temptation is there to target app-only strategies. “In the beginning, a small business has only limited resources to work with,” he says. “In such cases, an app makes for an obvious choice to help reach out to a certain number of Indian consumers — for many of whom the mobile phone remains their primary device to connect to the internet. As a business grows, providing additional platforms makes sense and is feasible as well.”

That’s not to say that India isn’t ready for apps. Online travel, banking, education, food, healthcare, home services, payments — every sector is trying to woo users to their brand of mobile apps by offering freebies and discounts. India, along with China, is one of the world’s fastest-growing mobile app markets. However, many believe that an app strategy should not be an issue of “or” but “and”. Rajiv Mangla, Chief Technology Officer of Snapdeal, says that customers have heterogeneous shopping habits, hence it makes sense to have multiple access points. “We have seen cases where people purchasing high ticket items, especially over INR 10,000 (around $150), prefer a larger screen to view product details and requisite content,” he says. Also a factor in India, mobile internet connectivity is slow for most users. Customers might want to access the portal on a faster broadband-based connection, and a robust desktop platform ensures this is available.

Devangshu Dutta of Third Eyesight, a consulting firm focussed on the retail and consumer products ecosystem, is of the view that an app-only approach works best if the app is used frequently, with high customer loyalty or stickiness. “This way one can aim to become a default aggregator of a particular service, such as taxi-hire or ride-share, restaurant selection, news etc. But, I still feel an app with a narrow product/service range would generally be less viable than a website with a similar offering,” says Dutta.

Dhindsa concurs that though there are businesses which are app-only or near to app-only (with the app providing over 80% of their transactions), there is an equally strong move back towards the mobile website. “New features developed by Google browsers and UC Web make the overall experience good. There is browser notifications, faster loading time and smarter caching to minimize data usage and improve speeds,” he says.

Whether the future is app-only or if the web retains its relevance, it’s clear that many in India believe that the customer should still have the choice of how they want to interact with a business.

(Published in Forbes)