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To app and back: How e-commerce firms saw the folly of an app-only approach

smart phone survey Updated: Jul 17, 2016 22:15 IST
Himani Chandna

It is believed that Flipkart, which owns Myntra, used the fashion retailer to test waters for its own plans of going app-only.(HT Photo)

Apps, as e-commerce companies told anyone who cared to listen, were the future. A lot of money went into creating a “seamless” experience for consumers. Last year, fashion retailer Myntra became the first major e-commerce firm to go app-only, a step that looked logical because 90% of its traffic and 70% of sales came through the mobile app.

Several others followed suit, among them food delivery apps Dazo and Tiny Owl. UrbanClap, the online marketplace that connects customers to service professionals, was launched in November 2014 on both web and app, but only on the mobile, not on the PC.

Read Hindustan Times’ apps coverage here

Companies chased the mobile as they could see its usage boom. India has 371 million mobile internet users. In the first six months of this year alone, it added 65 million, says Internet & Mobile Association of India.

However, as mobile phone usage rose, so did the ‘uninstall rate’ for apps. Gurgaon-based mobile analytics platform Uninstall.IO says the rate is as high as 90%. Remarkable is the app that lasts more than a week on the phone.

Read: Amazon launches platform to build apps for ‘Internet of Things’

When it came to using shopping apps, people worried about payment failure, delivery issues, and security. In the HT-MaRS smartphone survey, more than 61% of women said they were concerned about product quality, and more than 10% of housewives said they were worried about payment security. Almost 30% of men expressed worry about payment failure.

The limits of the app-only approach pushed firms, including Myntra and UrbanClap, back to the drawing board. Food apps Dazo and TinyOwl have shut down. Flipkart, which was expected to go app only, abandoned the plan.

A visitor takes a look at the Micromax Canvas Sliver 5. (Hindustan Times)

Myntra’s website staged a comeback in June. “The desktop site was launched to offer a segment of consumers who wanted the option to shop on the website, too, and we listened,” said a spokesperson for Myntra. “We also launched new categories, such as home furnishing and fine jewellery, where the desktop can provide a better browsing experience.”

Read: Myntra app spams phones with fake notifications of orders

Indeed, the browsing experience of a larger screen, such as the PC’s, is indispensable for those selling furniture. “Companies are now accepting that apps also have their weaknesses, you have to download them and keep updating them. There are certain segments, such as ordering a taxi, for which apps are more suitable,” says Ashish Goel, co-founder of Urban Ladder, an online furniture seller. “For us, having a desktop website is an important, a five-inch screen won’t throw up the real impact of a large sofa set or a double bed.” Still, Urban Ladder gets 50% of its revenue from mobile.

Read: Apple removes some apps from online store over security concerns

Varun Khaitan, co-founder of Urban Clap, says the app debate has to also look at the large user traffic that comes from Google. “We cannot afford losing consumers from the Google search. Ditching desktop versions is not affordable, at least in our business, where every person sitting on a laptop is a potential customer.”

This lesson was learned over the course of a year. Urban Clap launched a PC version of its website a year after the app. The PC already contributes more than 40% of its turnover. “There are several consumers who work on laptops and desktops in offices and try to get work done at home,” says Khaitan.

Arvind Singhal, chairman of the management consultancy firm, Technopak Advisory, says the app-only strategy makes little sense. “Shutting the desktop browser was an inappropriate business move. A popular e-commerce website ended up diverting its traffic towards its rivals. A company can chase the youth with its app, but it is important to be available at multiple devices to chase a larger spectrum of audience.”

New Delhi, India - June 18, 2015: A visitor takes a look at the Micromax Canvas Sliver 5, claims to be ‘World’s Thinnest Smartphone’ on its launch by CEO Micromax Vineet Taneja in New Delhi, India, on Thursday, June 18, 2015. (Photo by Vipin Kumar/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)

It is believed that Flipkart, which owns Myntra, used the fashion retailer to test waters for its own plans of going app-only. In May 2015, when Myntra shut its mobile and desktop websites, Sachin Bansal, the chief executive of Flipkart at the time, said it was only a matter of time before Flipkart followed suit. It didn’t.