Does my business need an app?

“We need an app” - often shouted from the boardroom table.

We often get told by potential clients that they need an app and chances are, they don’t. They might want an app but they probably don’t need one. What they need is a fully optimised, all singing all dancing mobile site.

That said, it’s easy to see why they think they need an app.

In 2017, 178 billion apps were downloaded in 2017 and Statista believe that figure will grow to 258 billion by 2022.  Alongside this, we know that consumers are using their phones more and more, with less time on desktop. In correlation to this, spending on apps, purchases and advertising is predicted to pass $188 billion in 2020.

With such hefty figures, an app makes sense right? The best way to get a slice of that sweet revenue pie whether your app is a revenue generator itself, or an additional channel driving customers to an existing revenue stream.  Well, no. Not always. It depends entirely on product or service you offer, the audience you sell to and the content you’re planning to put out there.

Mobile site versus app?

Google this heated topic and you’ll see the same old argument written again and again: “Which is better for our business? A mobile site or an app” and ‘10 reasons why apps are better than mobile sites” Yawn.

Let’s clear something up.

This decision has nothing to do with your website because that already exists.  Whether you choose to develop an app or not, it is essential to have a fully optimised mobile version of your website.

If you don’t you may as well give up now because in 2019 - it’s an essential part of any business regardless of industry. Every design project we do here is mobile first or perhaps better described ‘device agnostic’. We always work from the smallest breakpoint up to ensure a smooth and consistent user experience regardless of device.

Your decision to create an app (or not!) should be based on what value above and beyond that of a mobile site, it can bring to your end user.

There is no hard and fast rule (sigh)

For most traditional commerce operations what I’m saying is right although of course, that isn’t every business out there.

App first product businesses like Tinder, Uber and  Instagram don’t fit that traditional model for example. They all have a website but it serves a very different purpose - namely for marketing with a big fat call to action pointing to the app download location. These businesses are product businesses - with a carefully designed user experience and their first delivery to market was the app.  

That person shouting ‘we need an app’ across the boardroom table is more likely to be in an organisation with many existing channels than at the forefront of a cutting edge product led startup. In that more common scenario, the budget is probably best spent enhancing their existing responsive website to improve the user experience across all devices, especially mobile.  It’s important to make this distinction.

Nuances by sector


Unless you’re planning to take on Amazon, and have a large database to market to, you’re likely to sell more via your website than an app.

Most ecommerce purchases are irregular, one-shot or very occasional. Where there's an ongoing relationship (such as a supermarket with scheduled deliveries or behemoths such as Amazon or eBay) an app can make sense. However, ‘field of dreams’  is not a digital strategy and building an app is not a sure fire way to build those strong, loyal relationships.

Travel  & Booking

If budget allows, offer both an app with in-app purchases and a fully functioning transactional website. Great examples of this include, the trainline and Airbnb. You can do the same thing equally as well on both platforms. The choice sits with the user as to which is most convenient at the time they need to do said booking.

When it comes to needing services offline, for example in a travel setting, an app offers a lot of benefits. The Ryanair app is a great example (as much as that frustrates me to admit). It syncs your e-tickets to your apple wallet meaning that you can still show it to get onboard the plane despite being somewhere far from home with no internet access.


This one is tricky as it depends on the type of service being offered.

If your service is bookable, an app could be useful. For example, a hairdressing salon or yoga studio. You pay when you’re there but are able to book in advance. An app offers the chance to personalise the booking experience for the user, with things like reminder notifications and a record of previous bookings.

However, you may wish to consider whether it would be better for users to integrate with an existing tool. If they can book through an existing service such as Google Places, this negates the additional friction of downloading an app.

Content-led websites

If you’re not selling anything on your website, it’s non transactional and just contains information and contact information, you almost certainly don’t need an app. That means all you bloggers out there. And even you Bob the builder.  

The one exception I can think of here is the Rightmove app. It’s mainly content but offers excellent search filters which draw you in time and time again to have a little browse from the back seat of the bus. Although, they do also offer a booking service - ie they connect you with the estate agents to arrange viewings.

The best of both worlds?

If money was no object, we’d recommend having an app as well as your website. Think of this as an addition to your marketing strategy rather than a core channel for your users to find you on.

That said, as always, there are pros and cons to each.  It really depends on what your content is and what you want the user to do.

Things an app can do above and beyond a mobile site:

✔︎ Push notifications

✔︎ Offline functionality

✔︎ Integration with native functionality (eg apple pay)

✔︎ Additional marketing opportunities

✔︎ Constant brand presence on device

✔︎ Ability to personalise experience

✔︎ Logged in functions

Things a mobile site does better:

✔︎ Cheaper to create / you already have a website

✔︎ Available universally across different devices / platforms

✔︎ Benefits from SEO make it easier to find

✔︎ Supplying information

✔︎ Multiple tasks

In an ideal world would a brand have both a fully optimised, responsive website and an app? Yes, probably. If nothing else, for additional exposure and the ability to go above and beyond for your customers but remember, unless your app does something which is different and unique to the functions available on your website, or serves a specific purpose, chances are, you’re wasting your budget.

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