In the early days of the Internet, many companies asked this common question: 'Do we really need a website?'

And understandably so. The online phenomenon was brand new. ‘Digital’ had yet to form part of our daily lives and there was uncertainty about the web’s future: was it a passing fad or would it evolve and become ubiquitous?

That it did, and when it became clear that nearly every activity could - and would - shift online, the answer to the question was a categorical “YES!”

Fast forward fifteen years and some companies are still asking this decade’s version of the same question: “Do we really need a mobile app?”

The answer is the same, and for many of the same reasons: Yes, you do need a mobile app, because that's where nearly every aspect of communication and commerce will be or is already being conducted.

Follow consumers to the mobile environment

Few events in the history of commerce, in fact, come close to what today's mobile environment offers: the ability to create one-to-one connections between customers and their favorite brands and retailers. And consumers, in many respects, are leading the way, abandoning their desktops for smaller devices.

Data from this year’s post-Thanksgiving shopping activities reinforce the ever-growing influence of mobile devices on consumers’ activities, the promotional power of the mobile environment – and the need for effective mobile apps.

According to Adobe, mobile commerce contributed to $1.2 billion (36%) of the $3.3 billion in sales generated on Black Friday this year. And, during the same period, more than half of online traffic (55%) to retailers' sites came from mobile devices, with more shopping conducted on smartphones than on tablets.

Numbers from non-shopping activities also tell the story: more Google searches are now done on mobile devices than desktops. One-third of mobile subscribers read email only on mobile devices. And nearly 90% of media time is spent on media apps, with 90% of daily Facebook usage coming from mobile devices.

It's time to “lean” on mobile already

At the dawn of the mobile era, marketers talked about two experiences: “lean forward” and “lean back.” “Lean forward” experiences referred to desktops and PCs, with consumers at stationary computing devices and leaning forward as they searched, browsed and purchased.  Conversely, “lean back” experiences referred to the consumption of static print media or TV ads that were viewed passively and didn’t involve active attention or interaction.

Today's mobile environment, however, requires a combination of the two - a hybrid force of “leaning” back and forward experiences delivered through the ubiquitous mobile device and channel. So many technologies and marketing tactics now surround and support the mobile environment, creating expectations among consumers that retailers will intuitively know when and which way they're leaning – whether they’re browsing on a mobile device at home, saving an item to a wish-list on the way to work, approaching or shopping in a brick-and-mortar store, or completing a transaction at the checkout.

The value exchange

And although they express concerns about online privacy, today's consumers are willing to share personal information within the mobile environment if doing so delivers relevant and satisfying experiences. For many consumers, mobile is now their primary method of communication and they recognize that sharing mobile data can create tangible value in the form of personalized offers, meaningful marketing and ongoing connections with their favorite brands.

So for any brand or retailer still asking “do we need an app?” your answer is a resounding YES.

Apps are critical for marketing in the “age of me”; if retailers and brands don’t have an effective mobile app, one that forms part of a broader mobile strategy, provides real-time data, meaningful marketing and personally satisfying experiences, consumers are likely to lean away – and lean forward to a competitor that has fully embraced the mobile environment.  

In fact, that’s already happening. As we inch closer to 2017, mobile’s leaning back and forward moment is truly here.

Want to learn more about building an effective mobile app or find out how well your mobile app is performing? Swrve’s Mobile App Index provides benchmarks to help you get a handle on the metrics that really matter for your brand.