App-only eCommerce: A bad idea

Flipkart has gone ahead and officially stated, that over the year, it will shut down its desktop and (surely) mobile website and move to an app-only store. They seem to be following the sister concern Myntra's move to go app-only from May 1st, a week from now. If you ask me, they could not have got it more wrong.

Recent data might suggest (I don't have this data, but somebody must have used more than their gut feeling to announce such a move, right?) that there is a tremendous growth for acquisition and conversion on Apps; especially a huge potential in 'Tier II and beyond' bases in India. So true of a country where most people get their first taste of internet freedom via a mobile data plan. But, that is just a part of the picture.

Then, there is the theory that suggests internet will go the 'Push way' and 'supply' information you need like a 'utility' such as water and electricity. OK. Enough said. Then there is the other theory that uses the evolving platform/notification features of recent and upcoming Android and iO/S versions with streaming notifications to weakly support that App is the only way to go.

After its Billion Dollar Sale blunder, Flipkart is likely readying itself for another blunder with its app-only move. Agreed, that are many reasons to have an app for an e-commerce set-up and they are great for several good reasons. But does that mean you do not have a mobile website or desktop website altogether? That's preposterous.

I buy a lot, much to my wife's chagrin (generally, about spending), a lot... online. For many reasons, the purchases are split, chiefly, between Flipkart and Amazon, and to a smaller extent, Snapdeal, eBay, category stores and the likes. Then there are the specialized sites in international locations catering to a national population. I go there too. There is no count of how many times I have used and will use the apps of local cab companies to call a ride across town, Airline tickets, hotel bookings, restaurant reviews, product reviews, movie tickets and a few other things I am forgetting, all have been bought online. But, with the exception of Taxis, that too only in the last few months, I have not used apps exclusively for any type of purchase. For all but Taxis, apps is just the last step for me. I would be a typical if not a champion profile of the current generation of digital consumers. So, may be they should be reading this article and considering my perspective. Here it is:

  • I like to research the products that I buy. Mobile App, how much ever passionately you built it, sucks for this purpose. Don't take it personally. It's the same for everyone. I don't even want to talk about how difficult it is to filter and sort products (why restrict the filter and sort options on Apps?). Worse, if I am simply 'exploring' a category for what's new out there. 
  • I like the big feel of the pictures. No, pinch zoom is a compromise for me; for those times that I am in a queue at a checkout line or killing time at the airport.
  • I go to apps, sure, for making that final step of buying and taking that app-only discount or another incentive you have put out there for me.
  • I sign out of apps, after I do the purchase. Sometime, I uninstall a shopping app altogether, just to avoid your excitement of 'offers I should not miss'.
  • Push is NOT they way for me. Of the several mailboxes I maintain, my work mailbox is the only one that's on Push or Sync mode. I like to pull down the screen to refresh my mailboxes. That's the way it should be. I choose when I want to see the email. If I expect something critical, I will go there more often. But that true for email and it's true for everything else.
  • If you figure out my buying journey and 'attribution' entirely and accurately, you'll see that I will come to your desktop site as many times as I need to know more about the product, the comparisons, the reviews (until more reviews get posted) and shipping policies, wishlist, reading book excerpts etc. I do all this on the Desktop site. I grew up reading newspapers and still read a lot of books (checkout my order history, if you can). But, I don't do all the product related reading in a small screen, simply because I have better choice- the widescreen of the laptop (I am not forgetting that App on a Tab also provides a midway solution).
If you read between the lines, you will see themes of usability, user interface, user experience and traditional convenience of a large screen. Mobile apps might be hep and the key thing for your VC/PE pitches, but for me, all's good as long as you keep your desktop sites live and running. Shut down your desktop site and I will leave in a hurry, because you ignored one segment, the likes of me.

Flipkart, India's homegrown eCommerce bell weather might just go down in the history for the biggest blunder yet (even if they later recover from their big bet), should they decide to shutdown their desktop site. Don't do it.

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