Do you need an App?

I was recently ranting about a question that was posed, the question being: Do small businesses need an App to be competitive? Now, as some of you know this is a subject I’ve talked about quite a bit. The short answer is an overwhelming NO. Small businesses need a mobile website, but don’t need an App to be competitive. Why? Well, let my rant ensue! 🙂

< rant >
Needing an app is one of the largest misconceptions in Mobile right now, especially for small businesses. What businesses need first is a Mobile website. For the most part, a consumer will turn to their mobile device for information when they’re on the road – shopping, looking for a restaurant, a product, etc. If that consumer does a quick web search, then clicks on a result that’s not formatted for their device, that business loses a new customer. No one is going to find a business, search for them in an app store, install their app, THEN try to find out their address or driving directions, or even their phone number.

There are existing Apps, however, that businesses should embrace. For example, Foursquare, SCVNGR, Yelp, and others will help consumers find a business, as each app has a large existing installed base. But to think that a small business needs an App is absurd. There’s usually no reason for the consumer to install the app, let alone use it. “Yea Joe hang on a second, I can get the address for Fred’s restaurant, let me search the app store for the Fred’s Restaurant app, then install it, then I’ll get the address.” Nope. Google Fred’s Restaurant, click a link, and if Fred did it right, Fred’s website will redirect the mobile user to Fred’s mobile website, and front and center will be a button that says “Find Us” or similar. Ah, and a big click-to-call phone number, just in case.

Local search is what the majority of consumers are using mobile devices for, and those devices can be a powerful acquisition vehicle for local businesses. When consumers are searching for information about a business, a menu, or products, having to install an app is an unnecessary barrier to entry. Having a good mobile website with your businesses information is the first step in getting people to your doorstep. Then, if you want to cater to the higher-end devices and provide some extra functionality, like the “Fred’s Restaurant Dart Game” or something, sure build your app. But build it to achieve a business need, not because a commercial or some developer tells you that you need one. You can spend way less and reach far more users with a mobile website. And as always, look to our big brother – the World Wide Web. Find me a software company that released an installable piece of software BEFORE launching their website in the last 10 years, and you’ll come up empty. It just makes no sense.
< /rant >