Shopping apps take up to 85% of total revenue for leading brands that invest time and money in their app. 90% of consumers prefer shopping apps over mobile websites, due to convenience, user experience and speed, which means that having one is critical to surviving and thriving as a retailer and being able to beat competitors.

And this is where things get confusing. Retailers need apps – but if you look up “build a m-commerce app”, you’ll see there are app types: hybrid, web-based and native.

In this article you will find out why native apps are the only way to go in this competitive commerce market, with it’s demanding mobile users.

What are Native Apps

When we talk about apps, we’re really talking about native apps. Your Facebook app, your Twitter app, your Spotify app: all these apps are native. It means they are written using the native language of whatever operating system they’re made for. On iOS, this means Swift or Objective-C; on Android – Java; on Windows Phone – C#.

It also means you can download them in the app stores and the logo appears in the home screen of your mobile phone.

Native mobile apps are the most common type of app. They are built for specific platforms and are written in languages that the platform accepts. For example, Swift and Objective-C for native iOS apps and Java or Kotlin for native Android apps. Native apps are also built using the specific Integrated Development Environment (IDE) for the selected operating systems.

Both Apple and Google provide app developers with their own development tools, interface elements, and SDK. Most companies will invest in native mobile app development because of the multitude of benefits offered in comparison to other types of apps.

The upside is that native apps (and the reason native apps are the only way to go) offer the best user experience. They’re made for a specific device, so the navigation is much more intuitive.

Apps can make full use of the users device and thanks to that is has extra features, like push messages, gps, access to images etc. That’s why native apps are the best performing channel within m-commerce.

Advantages of Native Apps

  • Native apps deliver the best performance of all three development approaches.
  • Native apps receive complete support from app stores and the overall app marketplace. Distribution in app stores helps with discoverability.
  • Native apps are interactive, intuitive, and run more smoothly in terms of user input and output.
  • Native development allows developers to access the full feature set of the selected operating system.
  • The user experience of native apps is far superior to web apps or hybrid apps. To the user, the flow is more natural because of each mobile operating system’s specific UI guidelines and standards.
  • A native app must be approved by its respective operating system which assures quality, security, and device compatibility.

Disadvantages of Native Apps

  • Native apps use difficult programming languages which require experienced developers.
  • Expenses are more costly upfront for native apps compared to web or hybrid apps.
  • Native apps are not the best option for simple applications.

What is a Web App?

A web app is the “next step up” from mobile web-sites and can be useful to even replace your mobile website in the future. It’s an app that can be accessed from mobile browsers, which gives it a unique advantage.

For starters, web apps can be accessed from any operating system. This means you only have to write code and publish the app once, which saves time and money.

Then there’s the fact that web apps don’t require users to download them. Anyone can open a web app – like this version of Facebook – and start using it instantly.

If you’re a stickler for detail, you might say that web apps are more websitethan app. From a user’s point of view, they’re accessed using the exact same software as a mobile website. Moreover, web apps lack all the features that truly define (native) apps – for example:

  • Push notifications
  • Working in offline mode
  • Limited advanced features (e.g. no haptic feedback on iOS devices)

There’s also a different kind of web app: the progressive app. These are web-based apps that have a lot more functionality. Specifically, progressive web apps (PWAs) can:

  • Send push messages
  • Use touch gestures and your phone’s accelerometer
  • Use your phone’s camera, microphone and haptic/vibration hardware

But, before you get excited…. there is a huge disadvantage using progressive apps: they can only be used for Chrome. This means only Android users are able to use progressive apps. And iOS users being the biggest buyers, it’s not the best option if you want all your users to get a good experience and improve your conversion rate and revenue at the same time.

What is a Hybrid App?

A hybrid app is a compromise between native and web apps. It consists of 2 parts:

  1. Back-end code built using web app-friendly languages like HTML, CSS and Javascript.
  2. A native, downloadable “shell” that loads the code up using Webview (a simple browser).

So essentially, a hybrid app is really a web app loaded inside of a native app. It can improve user experiences a little, and even create the illusion of a native app (in some cases).

In the end, though, hybrid apps are really web apps. The bulk of the code is the same for all devices; advanced functionality is still limited; the checkout is still complex and therefore the cart abandonment rate is high; you still need to be online to do anything.

The big difference is that hybrid apps are downloadable. This means they’re a fairly accurate facsimile of native apps, which makes them handy for pilot projects and minimum viable projects.

Outside of that, there’s no reason to get a hybrid app. If you’re going to shell out money anyway, you may as well pay a little extra and go native.

Now that you know about all 3 app types, let’s finish with an important question: when should you use each kind of app?

  • Well, native apps offer the best user experiences, simplified checkout, more features and the highest conversion and retention rates. They should always be your primary choice if you want improve your mobile experience and results.
  • Web apps are less than ideal – but they’re still better than mobile websites. Since some users will inevitably go to your URL from their mobile devices, a web app is a good auxiliary channel to have in addition to a native app. Progressive web apps can only be opened in Chrome, which means only Android users have access to these type of apps. Knowing that iOS users are the biggest spenders, it’s not an ideal solution if you want to improve your mobile commerce results.
  • Hybrid apps are useful when you need to test out a new idea, so it’s more suitable for other businesses (like Games) than eCommerce. Other than that, we advise against them.

Advantages of Hybrid App Development

  • Hybrid apps don’t need a web browser like web apps.
  • Hybrid apps have access to a device’s internal APIs and device hardware.
  • Only one codebase is needed for hybrid apps.

Disadvantages of Hybrid App Development

  • Hybrid apps are much slower than native apps.
  • With hybrid app development, you’re dependent on a third-party platform to deploy the app’s wrapper.
  • The more customization the app requires takes away from hybrid development, which costs more money that can be saved with native app development.