Last year, e-commerce firm Flipkart provided a push for its mobile app by limiting its discount-led sales such as Independence Day sale, Diwali sale, New Year sale, to its app only. For this year’s Republic Day sale, the firm somewhat changed its strategy, with discounts made available on both the website and the mobile app.
The revival of catering to the desktop user, came about after months of application-only discounts and heavy application promotion. Companies seem to have realised that leaving desktop users behind is, in the long-run, detrimental towards growth.
Why did the firms choose to take up the app-heavy model over the last year?
“For e-commerce firms a large part of their customers engage in shopping through the app. So, it was logical for them to push towards a strategy where you try and get app downloads so as to get a lock on the customer,” says Rohit Bhatiani, director, Deloitte.
When contacted on the strategy to switch back to the desktop for its latest sale, a Flipkart spokesperson said, “The Indian e-tail market is overwhelmingly mobile-led with around 70 per cent traffic coming from mobile devices. We continue to follow the ‘Mobile First’ approach as majority of Indian customers shop only from mobile devices. We also have a base of customers who shop with us from the desktop. The Republic Day Sale this year is aimed at enabling both our mobile and desktop customers avail exciting offers on products across categories.”
After opening an app on a mobile, it’s less convenient for the buyer to jump to a different one or to explore options, whereas on a desktop users can keep multiple tabs open for comparisons between different sites. Additionally companies receive a lot of information from users from the app which helps them customise notifications for individual buyers.
But all buyers cannot be bunched under one bundle. This is because, market analysts say, two ‘kinds’ of purchases exist in the e-commerce realm. One is the click-and-buy approach, the other involves multiple steps – browsing, exploring, identifying and purchasing. The former kind, which is the impulsive one, has led to a large number of people coming online, primarily youth, and these occur mainly on the app. The latter kind happens when someone is buying a laptop or a mobile phone and would want to read through the details such as technical specifications, warranties, etc.
There are different time periods during which the app is more likely to be used. While commuting in the evening, the app becomes dominant for buyers. That’s the market ShopClues intensively focussed on with their ‘Ghar Wapsi’ campaign — offering discounts from 6pm-9pm on weekdays from their app. Over a period of time, however, firms have begun to see that there are customers who use the app just to surf than to actually buy products. Further, there are reservations against downloading more apps due to space/data constraints and continuous upgrades. As a result, despite a surge in mobile purchases, there is still a large number of customers who continue to shop exclusively via the desktop.
So, would an app-only structure work for the Indian market? Not for major e-commerce players, according to analysts.
“For people who are working on computers for a large portion of the day, it makes more sense to make their purchases from the same platform, rather than opting to shop through their cellphones,” said Sreedhar Prasad, partner, KPMG.
“For horizontal penetration in India, the app is the way forward for e-commerce firms, as the usage of the internet via cellphones is far greater than desktops. Having said that, e-commerce is just not about the youth. You need to look at the time people spend on the internet via desktops and laptops on a daily basis,” he added.
Last year in May, Flipkart unit Myntra became the first e-commerce firm in India to shut down the website and undertake an app-only move, which according to reports, led to a drop in sales and mixed reactions. Company officials could not be reached for comments. The step, analysts pointed out, may have been carried out as Myntra’s users are primarily the youth with a focus on fashion and apparel. While the shift might have led to losing a number of customers, it is the loyalists who keep coming back to make their purchases on the platform.
“There are technical and operational advantages of moving to an app-only structure. For Myntra, it could have been a business decision, since the majority of its customer base were making app purchases. It depends on what kind of objectives you have and the kind of growth you want to achieve,” Bhatiani said. But for horizontal, multi-user base firms an app-only strategy could be difficult and unsustainable. Even Myntra in December relaunched its mobile site but without the ability to make purchases, for which customers still need the app. As of now, the desktop website is just a banner page pointing to the app.
The mobile, non-app buyers
According to experts, in the cities it can be seen that most people are doing their research and product identification on the website after which they proceed to make the purchase on the application.
Similarly for products which involve a ‘family decision’ — such as a refrigerator or a personal computer, it is easier to compare on the desktop, given the screen size, even though the final purchase point could be a phone. It’s not just for the discounts — the existence of a mobile wallet, saved cards on the smartphone makes buying more convenient.
Snapdeal and Flipkart have taken cognizance of this. For people who wish to buy products from their smartphones, the company introduced Flipkart Lite in November, which they market as ‘convenience of a website infused with the experience of a native app’. In less than a week, Snapdeal came out with their own ‘Lite’ version across all mobile browsers unlike the former which is accessible only via Google Chrome on Android phones.
More than anything, the shift to a “Mobile First” from an “App Only” path shows that the companies are taking a step towards retaining desktop customers who want more browsing power coupled with discounts, along with pushing a strong vertical growth with mobile users who do not wish to download the apps.