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September 2, 2019

Mobile App vs. Mobile Website: how does the user experience differ?

When it comes to mobile navigation, the app has a better image than mobile websites, which are often considered unsuitable for smartphones. Yet, in a time when most web traffic takes place from a smartphone, the latest "Mobile Web" technologies are constantly improving the performance of mobile versions of websites. We therefore decided to conduct a user study in the form of remote usability tests to learn more about the experiences offered by mobile websites and apps.

Study Content

We have selected 3 e-commerce experiences, each one being available as a mobile website as well as an app:
  • Veepee, formerly "Vente Privée", specializing in "event sales"

  • Bazarchic, also in the event sales sector

  • Vestiaire Collective, a second hand site for luxury-oriented clothes

Then, we formed a representative user sample consisting of 60 people, men and women, aged 18 to 61 years old and living in France.

View of part of the sample

View of part of the sample

We asked them to navigate like a new visitor, on either one of the apps or one of the mobile websites, and to describe their experience at each stage of the process, such as searching for a product, creating an account or paying for a product.

Example of user feedback for the Vestiaire Collective website

Example of user feedback for the Vestiaire Collective website

Example of user feedback for the Bazar Chic app

Example of user feedback for the Bazar Chic app

These results were then analyzed and compared to find disparities and similarities in the user experience.

Example of user feedback for the Bazar Chic app

Example of user feedback for the Bazar Chic app

Study results: similar satisfaction and features in the case of an order process

Contrary to our expectations, the scores obtained by the mobile websites are slightly below those obtained by the apps although not significantly lower.

"3.8/5: average score obtained by mobile websites, compared to 4/5 for apps.

Therefore, the average score for mobile websites is 3.8/5 versus 4/5 for apps, a negligible difference in terms of user experience. The percentage of problems reported by testers is also slightly higher on mobile websites (47.8%) than on apps (44,6%). From these figures, we can see that with a similar process, there is a minor difference in user experience between the two.

If we go deeper into the details of the suggested path's different steps, we can even see that some actions were more easily carried out via a mobile website, such as creating an account:

Step Score (1 indicating a very difficult step, 5 indicating a very easy step):

  • Account creation: mobile website 4,5/5, app 4,3/5

  • Item search: mobile website 4/5, app 3,8/5

  • Finalizing the order (payment and delivery): mobile website 3.5/5, app 4,2/5


Item search: a nearly identical interface for the mobile website (left) and the Veepee app (right)

Therefore, in the case of a simple traditional shopping experience, we can conclude that mobile websites allows one to do as much as apps, without the need of any installation! So, in this context of reducing the added value of apps compared to the use of a browser, which apps still have a spot on our smartphones?

App and mobile website: a different objective

Actually, while the mobile website is rather used to discover a service, as a "one-shot" model for a very large target audience, the mobile app will rather be useful in the case of regular use, in which it will be possible to customize the user, with some more advanced possibilities in terms of features and increased loyalty. According to the Comscore website, websites generate more traffic, but have a lower average time spent, hence the name "showcase" website.

In conclusion of comparing user experience between mobile websites and applications

What we can learn from this study is that the medium, whether it is a mobile app or a mobile website, is not an end in itself in terms of user experience.

On the other hand, while it is possible to perform certain actions (such as buying an item) both on a mobile website and on an app, the latter allows for more in-depth interaction with the user thanks to the possibility of sending notifications or using the device's features.

These differences tend to become minimal, especially with the arrival of new technologies such as PWA (Progressive Web App) which combine the advantages of apps while maintaining accessibility via the browser.

Do you wish to learn more about the available user research methods to better understand your users and test your products and services? Check out our remote user tests solution page or our UX design audit services.

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Antoine Gondallier de Tugny

Antoine Gondallier de Tugny

Antoine is UX Researcher at Ferpection.

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