Mayday! Indian e-commerce portals switching to app only. Right decision?
6th April 2015

Mobile_with_appsAlmost sounds like an April fools joke but it isn't. Web designers get worried when they hear such news although technically there is not much for them to worry about.

From May 1st, Indian e-commerce portal will be app only. Flipkart will follow suit soon which is a big pain for me personally as I prefer to shop from my desktop browser or tablet browser.

Some of the rationales behind this move could be:

  • Going all in on the mobile. Most of their sales come from mobile platforms so they might as well go full-monty (or full mobile). This will help them save costs on maintaining a browser-based site which can be expensive.
  • Sharp focus in development. With browser-based sites out-of-the-way, their tech teams can sharpen the focus on improving the app without distractions.
  • Apps also give an accurate count of downloads from the IOS store or Android playstore giving the portals a fair estimate of their serious users.
  • Apps allow interaction with other apps and the mobile core systems allowing things like offers, price alerts, stock alerts etc. E.g. Piping alerts directly into WhatsApp for example.
  • Owning customer mind-space. Having the app on the customer's phone means owning a valuable piece of real estate in the customers world. Almost like a virtual monopoly over lesser players although customers are likely to have multiple shopping apps as well. But being on the phone means you are up close and personal with the customers.

Some of the apparent drawbacks could be:

  • Getting hit in search results. This could be a major hit for these portals but they are anyway ad dependent now and they can use their huge ad budgets to steer people to the app. With Google playing games with SEO results, it might not be such a big issue in the long-term. Short term they will definitely take a hit as their products will stop appearing in searches.
  • Price comparisons become very difficult for customers which is probably what these portals wanted to discourage anyway. However price sensitive customers might find it irritating and might go to sites which allow price comparisons through multiple browser tabs. For example, I always compare the prices between Flipkart and which will be difficult for me now.
  • India still has a lot of old phones and older smart phones which are not conducive to hosting an app. These portals are excluding this demographic with the idea I assume that they are not the target audience anyways. The target audience is very clearly the yuppie crowd with the latest smart phone.

Crazy like a fox? We will only know in the long-term.

From the outside its hard to gauge this decision as we are not privy to the kind of data and statistics these portals are looking at. Also their future plans could be radically different from what we expect.

This also might be an opportunity for niche players to grab the space vacated by these huge portals.

Interestingly there does not seem to be any such move from Amazon which is also promoting its app but not ditching its website.

Things like this make the Indian online space fun to watch and analyse.



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