Apps versus web - which is more important for smartphone users?

When a retailer has a choice to create a mobile website or a mobile app, the decision shouldn't actually come down to creating one or the other - they should do both.

According to a recent comScore study conducted over a three-month period from October 2011 to December 2011, respondents used mobile applications 38.2 percent of the time, and used their mobile browser to search for a company website 38.1 percent of the time. This means that apps and mobile web basically have the same reach across the U.S. mobile population, despite a recent Nielson study that stated retailers' mobile sites were more popular than apps among smartphone users.

Nielson found that during the 2011 holiday season, web and app use among consumers reached a combined high of 59 percent in December - although the distribution was 51 percent web and 28 percent app.

Marketing Land suggests that one reason behind smartphone owners using mobile apps less is the fact that some retailers simply haven't developed an app yet. What's more, the consumer may not be aware that an app exists, there's not enough retailer loyalty or other incentive for the user to download the app or it's inconvenient to wait for an app to download.

Thus, there needs to be some extra effort from retailers who create mobile apps beyond the "if we build it, they will come" mentality, the media outlet states.

And while apps can help increase loyalty and engagement, a recent ForSee study found that if a retailer's mobile site creates a positive experience, users are 54 percent more likely to consider the company the next time they want to purchase similar items. What's more, they're twice as likely to buy from the retailer's mobile site again.

On the flip side, negative mobile experiences also affect future mobile usage.

"More and more consumers are using mobile devices to access the internet and poor mobile experiences will have direct consequences and opportunity costs," Marketing Land states.

The bottom line? Create both a mobile-optimized website and a mobile app. Websites should be completed first since they offer cross-platform functionality, while apps should be designed for Apple products first, Android second.