In the past five years, smartphones have gone from being a novelty to being ubiquitous. Mobile is no longer the future; it is very much the present. According to new estimates from eMarketer, mobile shopping is having a huge impact in the e-commerce world and has contributed to an increasing share of US retail e-commerce sales.

This year alone, 15% of all online retail sales, roughly $39 billion, will happen on a mobile device.  That number is up from 11% in 2012, and eMarketer projects that by 2017, the percentage will rise to 25%. As more and more e-commerce merchants understand the necessity for going mobile, many still question whether they should focus on creating a mobile responsive site or a mobile app.

HTML5 Responsive vs. Native Apps

According to an article on ThinkMobile, the debate as to which platform is best for displaying a website on a mobile device is becoming antiquated, though it has yet to be fully resolved.  ThinkMobile points to the fact that of the over 1,785,000 apps in the marketplace, only 200,000 of those were created using the HTML5 language.

They also point out that native apps beat out HTML5 apps on a number of key areas such as a richer user experience (HTML5 has 30-50 device capabilities whereas native has access to over 6,000), overall performance (native loads faster), timely access to new OS innovations (Apple and Google offer, on average, 1-3 big updates a year), and security (the security of data in transit and at rest).

To be fair, they also declare HTML5 the winner on a few points as well, mainly citing lower cross platform development costs, availability of programming expertise, and immediate updates and distribution control.

Other voices in the mobile space such as contend that user behavior is geared more toward HTML5 responsive sites than native apps citing research conducted by Flurry which indicates only 5% of mobile shopping is done on mobile apps. They also point out that the World Wide Web Consortium deems HTML5 “feature complete,” and project that a long-term outlook will shift away from native development once all the hype dies down.

The Pros and Cons of Each

The Pros of Native Apps:

  • Businesses can leverage properties of a smartphone (like shake and camera), and these can add to the wow factor of the app.
  • Performance is often faster (having said this, some mobile browsers are faster than native apps because they can optimize memory management and performance).
  • Native apps allows for a new customer base to find you by searching the app marketplace.

The Cons of Native Apps:

  • Native apps are often more expensive to develop and maintain across multiple platforms.
  • User experience takes a hit when users have to proactively update their apps.
  • Apps don’t offer the ability to share content like it can be shared on the web.
  • Those apps that generate revenue can be subject to a hefty cut by the platform owner (30% for Apple and Google).

The Pros of HTML5 Responsive Sites:

  • Works off of one set of URLs and one set of HTML code so changes to a website only need to be made once.
  • Ensures all campaigns, whether email, search, social or affiliate point to mobile-friendly pages.
  • A single set of URLs also offers SEO benefits since all backlinks will point to a single domain.
  • Scalability.
  • Great user experience which closely mimics desktop experience.

The Cons of HTML5 Responsive Sites:

  • Pages load slower than native apps which can affect conversion rates.
  • In most cases, responsive design costs more money because of the complexity of ensuring layout and code work in tandem at every breakpoint.
  • Design constraints mean monetization challenges when standard ad units don’t fit.

Ideeli Case Study – Transitioning to Mobile

With over six million members signed up, ideeli – which offers online-only sales of fashion, home and beauty items – is one of the fastest growing private companies in the U.S. A growing number of mobile customers, along with an inventory of over three thousand brand partners to maintain, meant the company needed to get to market fast with a personalized web experience for all six million of their members without disrupting their existing workflow.


Ideeli’s business is a 100% e-commerce business, so when all of their sales come through online channels, being mobile-friendly is not an option — it’s a business imperative. Working with Mobify’s design team, they enhanced user experience first for their smartphone users, and when that channel saw great success, they enhanced user experience for their tablet customers.

Ideeli’s business depends heavily on email alerts and social media sharing on Facebook, and they knew they needed to offer an intuitive shopping experience for their customers no matter what link they followed or what device they used. Mobify’s platform allowed ideeli’s website to be found consistently at the same URL address across all devices. This was a key to their marketing success, as redirecting users to separate m-dot sites would have fragmented user experience which would have had a negative impact on conversion rates.

Since time is of the essence when ideeli is offering a private sale – the company took advantage of Mobify’s Performance Suite features which made each page of their website not only responsive but super fast. This reduced their bounce rate and increased customer engagement.

The Results

Since the move to mobile, ideeli has seen triple-digit growth in mobile revenue for consecutive years, and users have experienced 25-50% faster load times on their mobile devices than even on desktops.

Some Other Key Takeaways from ideeli’s Mobile Experience:

  • Bigger buttons and text made it easier for users to navigate the website. People often have a harder time using touch screens, trying to hit a target that was designed for a mouse pointer. Ideeli’s site used large buttons and clear text labels to help customers experience fewer errors.
  • Swipeable image carousels let members view more products and details. Allowing users to swipe to see more product images frees up space to display important information and calls to action, like the ‘Add to Cart’ button.
  • A streamlined checkout process allows fast and easy transactions. Ideeli’s cart has a timed checkout which encourages customers to complete the transaction they started. The form is optimized for touch so people can fill it out without unnecessary hassles.

Whichever platform business owners decide to use, one thing is clear: for a business to stay relevant and increase its yearly revenue, it has to follow where the market is going; and the market is going mobile.

About the Author(s)

Dean Vella

Dean has had a diverse career focused in two industries, finance and marketing. He currently is managing web content, SEO, internet marketing campaigns and visitor growth of the online programs of several universities through their partnerships with Bisk Education. | LinkedIn | @Loco4SEO | More from Dean               

SEO Specialist, Bisk Education