Flipkart Ltd, India’s largest e-commerce firm, relaunched its mobile web business by introducing web-based apps that will potentially make it easier and more convenient for people to shop on mobile phone browsers, as the company seeks to dominate smartphone-based shopping and avoid losing customers to rivals.
Flipkart shut its mobile website in March, a move that was seen as a precursor to it becoming an app-only shopping platform. Flipkart’s Myntra unit went app-only in May. The two online retailers have taken the lead in trying to accelerate the customer shift towards shopping on smartphones by incentivizing and even forcing people to download their apps.
However, many customers still prefer shopping on conventional web browsers, even on mobile phones. Many Indians own cheap smartphones, which aren’t always conducive to operating bulky shopping apps, and new mobile Internet users typically use browsers rather than apps to shop and do other things on the Internet.
To offer a better shopping experience to these customers and others who prefer shopping on browsers, Flipkart will reopen its mobile browser presence this month. The company has tied up with the Chrome and Opera browsers to introduce web-based apps that will offer a similar shopping experience to so-called native apps, which need to be downloaded on phones.
It’s particularly important for Flipkart, which generates anywhere between 75-90% of its traffic from the mobile platform, to have a mobile web presence after the lessons learnt by Myntra from its app-only move. Since Myntra went app-only on 15 May, the firm has seen sales growth drop. While Flipkart’s rivals, Amazon India and Snapdeal, also get a majority of their traffic from mobile, the two firms haven’t been as aggressive as Flipkart in pushing their apps.
“Native apps work better than websites because they give a superior customer experience. Latency is lower, there’s an icon on the home screen, scrolling is faster, customers get notifications and so on,” said Peeyush Ranjan, engineering head at Flipkart. “On the mobile site, none of these things are possible. However, apps also have their weaknesses. You have to download them and you have to keep updating. Our mobile web app offers the benefits and superior experience of the app without the limitations.“
Flipkart’s new browser app will allow users to directly go to its mobile site from their home screens, enable notifications and other app-type features.
“We will get a bunch of new users through the mobile web who don’t have our app installed. But the full Flipkart experience is still available only on our native app. And the focus is not on traffic. The main reason for launching our web app is we don’t want to compromise on the user experience for people who come to us on the mobile web. We’ve pushed the limits of technology to a point where the mobile website can give you the same experience as the native app,” Ranjan said.
Desktop users are few in numbers and most or all of them also have smartphones, Ranjan said, when asked why Flipkart didn’t launch an app for desktop-based browsers. Flipkart isn’t planning to shut its desktop site for now.