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The Rise and Reach of Mobile Web Applications

Letting your goal drive the journey: native apps v. web apps.
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The average person consumes twice as much content on a mobile device than via a desktop. While this may seem like a perfect environment to deploy a mobile app for your restaurant, the ever-growing number of restaurant mobile apps are beginning to cause “app fatigue” among many consumers. People are very connected to their devices, so engaging them through that medium is crucial to success. However, this begs the question of which approach is right for your business, leveraging a downloadable mobile app or a web-based app.

Native mobile apps are built with specific operating systems in mind, such as iOS or Android. Native apps must be installed, allowing access to the device’s hardware and a more immersive customer experience. On the other hand, web-based apps don’t need to be downloaded. They are accessed via a mobile web browser. They’re not built for specific operating systems and utilize open-source code, such as HTML or JavaScript.

Industry data shows large restaurants that offer both native and web applications, over 80 percent of transactions occur via their web app, with just 17 percent of transactions occurring through native iOS and Android apps. Still, there are many factors to consider when developing these mobile apps (native or web), including goal, budget, user experience, and convenience.

Weighing the Pros and Cons 

A lower price point is one of the main considerations in favor of the web-based app experience. The cost to build and deploy a web-based app is significantly lower, often 5-10X less on average, compared to native mobile app development. Also, web-based apps enable easier access and shareability between various mobile operating systems. Web apps require less training and marketing around releases and do not have to go through App Store and Play Store approval processes.

The top arguments in favor of the native mobile app experience are mainly regarding the technological advantages that can be built into the apps. Advantages include leveraging device hardware with features such as geo-locations, and near-field communication (NFC). The need to incorporate these features often drives the decision toward native for many businesses. Other benefits of native apps are performance, usability, depth of experience, and even offline access since much of the data is stored on the device.

A native mobile app is likely the best strategy for larger restaurants and fast-food chains to reach the most customers. It is not only a strong brand strategy, but for companies with larger budgets and existing customer awareness, the number of app downloads will usually reflect a positive ROI.

As for smaller, local, or regional restaurant chains or new establishments, owners should consider getting started with a web-based app. The low barrier to entry will allow you to build your brand and find your customers with less initial financial investment. Once you establish your offering with a web app, native could still be on your roadmap as the business grows

Key Adoption Tips 

As you think about the advantages and disadvantages of both of these applications and prepare a strategy to reach as many of your customers as possible, there are a few key points to keep in mind:

  • Before introducing any product offering to the customer, ensure that your internal stakeholders have bought into the goal and mission of the app. Get to know your gatekeeper(s), communicate with them, address their concerns, and make them an integral part of the success of your application.
  • Listen to your customer. This may seem obvious at times, but ensuring your customer is happy with your offering will help your app be successful and make the road there much smoother. Ensure that the customer journey is reliable and functions properly and that your customer-facing teams are product advocates and experts.
  • Be sure your product is offering value to your customer. It should be intuitive and align with their needs. Even if you do everything “right,” but the product still doesn’t resonate with your customer, they will ultimately not adopt your application.

Let the goal drive the journey

To boil it down and find which experience is best for you, stay true to your initial goal – what is the primary purpose of your offering? If your goal is to reach new customers and increase business, a mobile web-based app is a route you should take. If you’re looking to drive operational efficiencies and create a more immersive experience, a native app would be best for you. If you have the resources to utilize both, be sure that your user experience, tone, and brand are consistent throughout to facilitate the best overall experience for your customer no matter where they interact with your business.

No matter how to decide to move forward, continue to iterate. As with many things, everyone has an opinion about mobile technology – don’t make it your goal to please everyone with your 1.0 release. Remain adaptable and constantly improve.

About the Author


Jon Squire is the CEO and co-founder of CardFree. He has more than 20 years of business, marketing, and product development experience in financial services and emerging technologies. Jon founded CardFree in 2012 to fill a market gap with an integrated commerce platform for large merchants. Jon has consistently driven innovation and created world-class product offerings in new categories. He launched the first national mobile P2P offering in partnership with Sprint and PayPal. Jon is well known for his leading-edge work with NFC, barcode, and alternative technologies that integrate with the point of sale. Earlier in his career, he led mobile/e-commerce payment initiatives for Wells Fargo and ran E*TRADE Advisory Services.

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