Earlier this year, Flipkart owned Myntra decided to go mobile-app only and they shut down the Myntra website. Flipkart then said that this is as part of the overall strategy of the company to focus on mobile which is the future of e-commerce. There were rumours that Flipkart too soon will be following the same. That is shut down the website and ensure the presence only on mobile app. Flipkart later closed their mobile website as well. The recently concluded Big Billion Sale was mainly focused on the mobile app. Most of the offers were tailor-made for the app rather than the website. Meanwhile their competitor Amazon had their sales on both mobile app as well as the desktop website.

Flipkart launched Flipkart Lite

Flipkart today announced that they are re-launching a mobile website of their portal on chrome browser on android phones. Flipkart calls Flipkart Lite as a progressive mobile web app. According to a WSJ report, Flipkart’s new mobile website has been built with Google’s help. The report notes that Google has been trying to make mobile sites more engaging as it cannot crawl apps so efficiently and that affects its search engine business. WSJ adds that Flipkart is one of the first in India to use Google’s new technologies to load mobile sites faster.

Earlier this month Google published an update on their mobile friendly algorithm. Starting November 1, 2015, pages with an app install interstitial that hide a significant amount of content on the transition from the search result page won’t be considered mobile-friendly. Instead of full-page interstitials, Google recommends that webmasters use more user-friendly formats such as app install banners. Google hopes that this change will make it easier for searchers to see the content of the pages they are looking for. [Source: Google Webmasters Page]

Before the launch of Flipkart Lite, when we tried to open the mobile site, it would redirect you to the app download page either on Google Play Store or the App Store on iOS. This will be a clear violation of the Google policy stated above. Is that the reason why Flipkart is launching Flipkart lite?

Flipkart light uses latest web technologies that provides seamless mobile browsing experience for the users. They utilized the features like Add to Home Screen and Push Notifications. When the user chooses to add to home screen, the browser creates a high-quality icon on the home screen. The ATHS prompt is shown automatically to the user based on a heuristic that is specific to each browser. On Chrome, if the user has visited the site twice within a defined period, the prompt will trigger. The push notifications will work even when the browser is closed. Flipkart team through their blog reported that they are working with the chrome team to implement some more features to Flipkart Lite.  [Source: Flipkart Tech Blog

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The re-launch of its mobile site is likely to raise questions about how successful an app-only strategy can be in a country like India where the user experience can often be fluctuating.

Let’s focus on some interesting stats about mobile internet usage in India.

Number of internet users in India from 2014 to 2019 (in millions)

Internet Users

The above statistics provides information on the number of internet users in India from 2014 to 2019. In 2015, India had 277.4 million internet users. This figure is projected to grow to 411.1 million internet users in 2018 and 459 million in 2019.

Mobile phone internet user penetration in India from 2014 to 2019

Mobile Internet users in India

The above statistics gives information on the mobile internet penetration in India from 2014 to 2019. In 2015, 34.1 percent of mobile phone users accessed the internet from their mobile phone. This figure is expected to grow to 47.4 percent in 2019. As of August 2015, it was found that India hat 350 million internet users, of which 159 million were mobile internet users.

Most popular mobile activities in India as of 2nd quarter 2015

Mobile Activity in India

The above statistics presents the most popular mobile phone activities in India as of second quarter of 2015. During a survey, it was found that 13 percent of the population used a social networking service, 12 percent of the Indian online population uploaded photos and 11 percent purchased an item online.

[Source: Statista] 

From the above stats it is clear that we are way too early to adopt app only strategy. Most of the Indians still use basic smart phones with limited storage. Unless someone is an avid shopper, they might not be so keen on letting an app occupy the space on their smartphone. The consumers are still not very particular about shopping online. There are multiple reasons like payments, lower resolution etc.  

Will an app only strategy works

What’s in there for Google?

Google’s major revenue is from search and advertising. The total advertising revenue stands at 90%. [Source: Google Financial ReportSo the app only strategy affects directly on the Google revenue. If users are not going to search anything, Google can’t advertise anything on their search page as well as display ads on other networks. This is one of the reason’s that Google is penalizing those websites or pages with an app install interstitial that hide a significant amount of content. Google controls the Android market!

Why Flipkart is worried about mobile site?

Flipkart is pushing hard to increase the app downloads. Through app they will have more control of your data than the website. Through mobile app they can push timely ads through push notifications, read your contacts through call logs and sms, scan other apps and analyze your shopping behaviour. Though building and maintaining a mobile website is lot cheaper than maintaining mobile apps. Flipkart might be trying to reduce the operational costs of maintaining a mobile app through building a mobile website. Above all they don’t want to be in the bad books of search god Google. Also the user acquisition cost in mobile app is considered to be on the higher side compared to mobile website.

As per the latest Morgan Stanley report in US, mobile browser traffic is 2X times larger than app traffic, growing 1.2X faster. Despite the popularity of mobile apps (an est. 76bn downloaded in 2014), U.S. mobile browser audiences are 2X larger than app audiences across the top 50 mobile web properties and have grown 1.2X faster over the
past 3 years. Only 12 of the top 50 U.S. mobile sites – including YouTube, Instagram,Snapchat,and Pinterest- have larger app audiences.

This might not be applicable to Indian audience, but it can be considered while taking decisions over mobile app or mobile website.

US Mobile browser vs mobile app

The report also shows that 30% of the top 30 retailers don’t have app user bases large enough to be measured. In addition, of the 21 retailers that have app user bases, the median mobile browser audience is still 6.1x larger than the mobile app audience. Said another way, mobile browser audiences are still ~6x larger even among the most successful mobile app. The retailer median mobile browser audience is 6X larger than the median mobile app audience. Given the importance of traffic to retailers, this in our view speaks to the importance for retailers to continue to spend on Google mobile paid search for traffic.

[Source: Morgan Stanley report]

So what will consumers get from this?

As we mentioned above, Indian consumers use smartphones with less storage and they don’t want the apps to consumer lot of free space in their mobile. Moreover they would like to compare the prices of the product available across ecommerce sites. This option is not available in the apps. They might be comparing the prices in mobile/desktop websites and coming back to apps/websites for purchase. So the pick here is that the mobile website is looking more like a mobile app. This will bring the feel of a mobile app to the user who is browsing the website.

Below mentioned are the reasons why mobile apps are better than mobile websites:

  • better personalization
  • notifications
  • work offline
  • design and branding experience

If you can achieve these features in a mobile website, then why should you go for an app without even having a proper strategy for mobile apps?

Mobile apps are the future of ecommerce, but there should be a clear objective of what you going to achieve through an app/mobile website and decide on a mobile app or mobile website.

PS: All the views written in the article are my personal.

So what do you think about this new strategy of Flipkart? Post your comments below if you agree or disagree to my points.