Mumbai,Marco D'Souza: On 23 March 2015, mobile browser visitors to Flipkart and Myntra where left hunting for that little ‘Continue to mobile website’ on their phone screen. And they were kept hunting; the mobile version of these popular websites were permanently closed from that day on.
With a registered user count a tad North of 26 million, Flipkart is an undisputed juggernaut in its space. Ostensibly, over 75 percent of their sales initiate from mobile devices currently. Their app--often among the top 5 most popular on app stores in India--have witnessed about 11 million downloads.
Their decision to shut down their mobile website clearly points to their driving mobile users to exclusively use their app for shopping. Some end users would be miffed at being deprived of the choice of not installing another app, while others would just go ahead and install the app anyway. But the issue deepens when there is word of the Flipkart website itself being discontinued.
I’m all for mobile apps that enhance the convenience and experience of a service (McDonald’s deliveries, Ola, Uber: they’re all doing a pretty good job in helping consumers get stuff done), but mobile apps appeal to a very specific frame of a person’s mind--when time is fleeting and alacrity is all-important. But a person’s waking hours are peppered with several other frames of mind as well: when writing mails at office, playing a game on the home desktop, or browsing full-screen Facebook galleries on the laptop at the coffee shop, people are generally game for a ‘fuller’ and more extended web experience.
Even the largest phablet or tablet cannot match this experience when it comes to serious product browsing and research--an integral part of buying anything. This is an experience only a larger screen with a decent keyboard and touch/pointing device can deliver. Force a user to interface with a brand only via a (smaller) mobile screen and a very interesting underlying strategy gets revealed: the innate characteristic of smaller screens to drive deeper and more focused engagement implies a greater ability for a brand to retain control over a user, and more closely control the experience with their site or service.
This is especially pertinent in the e-retail segment, where one of the biggest activities involves comparison between products across different e-stores. On the desktop, the ability to open several tabs and compare makes it easy to locate the better deal--idea for the consumer. But for the retailer, it implies a higher likelihood of losing out a ‘hot lead’ to another site that lists a given product at a better price.
Flipkart-owned Myntra has already announced their move to a pure-app experience by 1 May 2015. The Flipkart website, it is believed, may soon follow suit. But apart from cornering users into having no other choice but to fiddle around with an app to make any kind of purchase, it also points to a worrying trend that others might follow suit. In the end, how many apps would you want to have on your phone? One for each and every service you use? Cluttering my smartphone with a plethora of icons is not something I would fancy.
Flipkart has been on a roll, making radical and often controversial announcements of strategies and alliances that haven’t--on the face of it--seemed to be in the best interest of their consumers. Being at the vanguard of their segment, it could be written off as them trend setting and defining the benchmark, but taking away a user’s prerogative to utilize the familiar and effective desktop browser for comparing and choosing can never be a good thing.