Mobile & Digital

Browser versus App, which wins with consumers and when?

Everyone knows that mobile is the next frontier, but many brands are struggling to find the best way to engage their mobile consumers. With this in mind a new study from Millward Brown Digital in the U.S. provides useful information on how people use the browser and apps on their mobile phones.

The study titled The New Mobile Mantra combines two sources of information in order to understand the differing use of browser and apps. The first uses behavioral data from U.S. mobile consumers who have opted in to Millward Brown Digital’s proprietary Compete mobile clickstream panel; which tracks every app and site our panelists visit. The second source is a survey of 2,011 respondents over the age of 18 in the U.S. who own a smartphone. Combined, the two sources offer a unique view of smartphone behavior and the reasons behind that behavior.

The research finds that overall usage of the browser or an app is very similar:  59 percent of total unique visitors to the top 30 mobile brands visited via browser, versus 60 percent in app. However, once we drill down into usage related to specific categories, distinct patterns emerge. When it comes to infrequent contact or purchase categories like cars, hotels and consumer electronics, people tend to use their browser most, but if it is a frequently used service then apps are used more.

I only have to look at my own phone to see that the results make sense. Apart from entertainment and information apps, the most frequently used apps on my phone are for airlines. However, my phone also demonstrates that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to browser versus app use. I do have one hotel app, even though, like the majority of our respondents, I typically use the browser to access hotel sites. Hilton’s app allows me to check in and choose a room ahead of time, and I use the Hilton at Logan airport a lot.

Apps that fail to offer any real utility or fail to deliver a good user experience are at risk of deletion. Most people only use between four and six apps a day, and phone memory and power are precious resources. I use Avis rental cars quite a lot, but deleted the Avis app because it kept getting stuck in a loop whenever I tried to rent a car from a specific location – “I know it is only open certain hours but I want to rent a car anyway!”

There is a lot more useful information in the Millward Brown Digital report, but my overall takeaway is that brands must understand exactly what information consumers are likely to need and when if they are to create a positive experience for their users. Potential users are likely to first find the brand through the browser. Returning users or customers may use an app, but only if it justifies the real estate on the person’s phone. Just replicating what is on the brand’s website is not likely to do that.


Authored by Nigel Hollis,Executive Vice President and Chief Global Analyst at Millward Brown.

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