Without question smartphones have radically impacted how people access the internet. Despite the fact that these devices have been available for less than a decade, today, according to Nielsen, over 60% of Americans carry a smartphone. Consequently, mobile users have become increasingly important to retailers—including wine and spirits stores. To address the needs of mobile users there are two main projects that stores can look at taking on: building a mobile-optimized website and building a mobile application. Both of these projects, however, address different audiences and should offer separate features.
A mobile-optimized site is more or less an enhancement of your primary website. Most websites are designed to fit the width of a computer monitor. Consequently, when you try looking at a regular website in your mobile browser, it appears very small, and you have to adjust your view to read the content. An optimized site would be a different version designed to fit your mobile phone so you don't have to zoom in. This version of the site would always come up whenever a user visits from a mobile device. A mobile application, however, is a program that must be downloaded onto a device—usually through an “app store.” You can also click a link on a given website to download a mobile application. In either case, accessing the application requires the user to take an extra step of loading the software onto his phone's hard drive.
The key difference in both projects is the type of audience you're reaching out to. A mobile-optimized site is meant to give anyone and everyone that reaches your website an intuitive experience that mirrors the “main” website. In other words, they should be able to interact with the site and access the same information they would if they were on a desktop computer. The optimized site is meant to make the experience simpler and eliminate potential friction and frustration.
If you develop a mobile application the majority of people that arrive at your website or in your physical store will not be able to see it immediately. You will need to place a download link on your website as well as advertise the app to in-store customers. Even if you successfully get many people to download your application, you will also be challenged to keep these users engaged. According to a 2013 mobile app usage study by Compuware, on average, just 16% of users try a given app more than twice if it doesn't immediately hold their interest. Ultimately, this means you'll find that most of the people actively using your application will be primarily your most loyal customers—a much smaller audience than the users that would engage with a mobile-optimized site.
If you're going to develop a mobile application, you need to have something enticing for users that either enhances or goes beyond what you can offer with your website or in-store shopping experience. There won't be much to compel someone to launch your application if it just rehashes the same content that you have on your website. Consider some of the unique features of a smartphone and how they can be leveraged: push notifications, camera, QR code reader, geolocation, et al. How can you use these tools to create something worthwhile for your customers—either while they shop in your store or while they're elsewhere? If you're stumped by this question, know that you're not alone. Very few major wine retailers advertise a smartphone application, and success stories are hard to come by. Still, while it may not be abundantly clear or easy, if you can find a way create a quality, supplemental experience that relies on the particular technology of smartphones, you will likely find yourself with a successful application.