Should you use Mobile Web or Mobile App for Your eCommerce Store?
Two men looking at a tablet at work

Mobile usage has significantly impacted eCommerce evolution. When retailers started to embrace the commercial possibilities of the internet in the mid-nineties to 2000’s, consumers had to rely on desktop computers to find businesses, products, and services. The explosion of mobile phone popularity opened up a whole new world for eCommerce websites and now that wireless devices are rapidly taking over modern lifestyle, businesses have a more effective way to establish interest and engagement from South African online shoppers.

Offering shoppers a unified experience across desktop and mobile platforms is crucial for driving optimal conversions. To illustrate the massive potential that mobile has: according to a BI Intelligence report, mobile commerce will comprise 45 percent of total eCommerce in 2020, totaling $284 billion (about R377 trillion) in revenue.

When it comes to implementing a mobile strategy for your business, there are a few criteria you'll need to consider in order to decide if an app or mobile website will better meet your requirements. While it is true that your desktop site will automatically appear in a mobile browser, the features of your site such as landing pages, forms and payment gateway need to be properly optimized for a fully functional mobile experience.

Mobile web vs. native apps

In order to fully grasp the differences between a mobile website and a native app, a description of each must first be given. A mobile-responsive website is your main website formatted for a mobile environment. This means that all page elements such as text, data, photos, videos and your payment gateway are displayed on a smartphone and tablet, though the layout may change (see a comparison of responsive and adaptive designs here). Through an internet connection, users render this downscaled version of your eCommerce site through a web browser after entering the site URL in the address bar.

An app, on the other hand, is a software application that is downloaded from an app store and then saved on mobile devices. It is much quicker to retrieve information from an app, and access to it does not always require an internet connection.

Below is a comparison on the strengths and weaknesses of mobile websites and apps to help you decide which one your business should capitalise on.


table of mobile information

It is reported that 60% of South Africans currently own a smartphone, while 50% percent of our population are regarded as active internet users. As mentioned in the table above, a mobile optimised website can be accessed on any device that has a browser, including smartphones. Therefore, if your eCommerce store has a presence on the mobile web, you will be able to reach more than half of our population.

Google has made a "mobile-friendly" a requirement for mobile search rankings. Last year, the company introduced a second update for their mobile algorithm, which means websites that provide a good mobile experience get preference on the search page rankings.

If your website is powered by a content management system (CMS), you don't need to develop a stand-alone mobile site. Many hosting systems allow for manipulation of their pre-existing frameworks to make the website design responsive for mobile devices.

If your target users are going to access your websites regularly, you may need to consider an app for as it provides quicker access and allows you to update your users with in-app messages. Since the app will be living on the user's home screen, they will constantly be reminded of your business, which is a great branding opportunity. Unlike a mobile website, where users have to search for your website first or type in the address before they can find you and then having to deal all those online distractions, an app gives them a more personalised and direct experience.


Tallying up the score, it appears that a native app offers the most benefits for both users and e-tailers. While an app gives you a stronger presence on mobile devices, it would make more sense to develop one if you're in a competitive industry. A mobile optimised website would actually be a good place to start as it is more cost effective and most of the time works within your budget.  Ultimately, it all depends what your business purposes are. Ideally, it would be better to have both a mobile site and app if you have the resources available. using the first to reach a wider audience and establish your brand, and the latter to boost consumer engagement.

PayU’s range of payment gateway options for businesses are compatible with a range of devices, ensuring that your customers have the convenience to shop anywhere, anytime - whether they’re making a purchase from their desktop, smartphone or tablet.