Many business owners and entrepreneurs struggle with whether they should design a responsive website that works across devices or focus exclusively on building a native mobile app.

It’s a difficult choice to make since both options present advantages and disadvantages that must be taken into consideration when moving forward.

As of last year, apps from retail businesses took up to 27 percent of consumer’s time, which sheds lights on how critical a mobile app can be to reaching your customers where they are active online. At the same time, 67 percent of consumers say they are more likely to purchase from a mobile-friendly website than they are from a website not optimized for devices other than desktop.

It’s a tough call to make when deciding between responsive design or an app, but in the end, it depends on the goals of your business.

If your company can afford it, it’s highly recommended that you build both a responsive site and a native mobile app in order to help your business work towards capturing the attention of your entire mobile audience. The native mobile app will provide a mobile centric experience for your existing and most loyal customers, while your responsive website can help provide an optimized experience to new and old visitors browsing your website or discovering it for the very first time.

For example, popular ecommerce brand Nasty Gal has a responsive website and a mobile app to help provide the best experience for its shoppers however they wish to shop the brand’s products.

Most companies can’t afford to do both, which is why it’s important to understand the advantages of both options when addressing your company’s mobile priorities.

Responsive design isn’t a cure-all

Responsive Web design is certainly the most affordable option for your business as compared to the development of a mobile app. Take into consideration the initial costs of redesigning your website to be mobile friendly, then the cost of occasional upkeep and upgrades.

If visibility in the search engines is an increasingly important part of your strategy to grow your business, then a responsive website is critical in helping grow traffic to your website. A mobile app lives in a closed environment and cannot be indexed by the search engines, which requires driving traffic to this app through alternate methods.

BBC Responsive Design How to decide between a responsive website or a native mobile app

Depending on your designer and the size of your website, a responsive Web design often takes far less time to create then does a mobile app since there’s no app store approval or extensive guidelines to follow as compared to what Google Play, the Apple app store and the Windows Phone app store require for launching an app.

If the goal of your destination online is to be universally accessible from any device, then responsive design is the solution. A mobile app is designed for a unique experience; exclusive to the operating system it lives on, which means it isn’t a one size fits all fix.

However, don’t think of responsive design as the easy way out when it comes to optimizing your website across mobile devices. Although a responsive website optimizes your experience, it doesn’t incorporate all the smart phone features like the camera or GPS that a native mobile app can.

A mobile app will provide users with unique functionality and speed that can’t be achieve with a responsive website, but can be experienced on the operating system you choose to design your app on.

It’s better than not having a mobile-friendly version of your website, but it’s not the finally solution for your customer’s experience with your business on mobile. Again, the choice between responsive and a mobile app depends on what your goals are for mobile.

Consult analytics to inform your native mobile app

A mobile app offers a compelling, unique and mobile specific experience for your customers, which is one of the main reasons why your company should consider designing an app over worrying about making your existing website mobile-friendly.

First and foremost, if you have existing data to analyze than it is important to use your analytics tools like Google Analytics or Omniture to see what mobile devices are used the most to visit your website in the past few months. This can help inform what operating system you decide to design your app on.

Google Analytics Referral Traffic How to decide between a responsive website or a native mobile app

Whether you decide to go with iOS, Android, Windows Phone or another less popular operating system, it’s essential to match the features of the operating system with the type of app you’re looking to create whether it’s an ecommerce store, a content focused website etc.

Besides being able to utilize more of the features incorporated in a mobile device into the experience, a mobile app often has access to more data from a user and therefore, can provide a more personalized experience.

This personalization through data could play out in the types of push notifications an app sends you, product recommendations, suggested content to view or other specific user-driven actions. When a user makes a profile on an app, it makes gathering data about a person and their online habits much easier for a business and much quicker and smoother for the user continually using this app to shop, find events to attend, listen to music and perform other tasks.

As of now, a native mobile app offers the best user experience for a person on a mobile device since there are still limitations to how HTML 5 can be parsed on mobile.

As the complexity of the responsive website increases, the more likely the user experience will begin to suffer. A native mobile app offers the best user experience to your audience, taking advantage of the phone’s functions and the expectations of customers using these devices.

Lastly, in-app purchasing drives 76 percent of all app marketplace revenues to date since once it is setup, it’s particularly easy for users to make a purchase with pre-entered credit card information.

This is best suited if your app will offer micro-purchases, which our low price point products or services within the app, like buying virtual goods, membership to the premium version of the app or access to additional content.

Does a responsive website or a native mobile app seem like the best match for your business? What factors have helped you decide on one option over the other? Please share your insights in the comments below.