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Updated Apr 08, 2024

Do You Need an App for Your Small Business?

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Sean Peek, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst

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Mobile apps have gained traction as retail and marketing tools. As apps for smartphones and tablets proliferate – App Annie predicts the consumer spend in app marketplaces will reach $156.5 billion in 2022 – apps are increasingly appealing to small local businesses. 

Bars, restaurants, flower shops, hairdressers, medical professionals, and community-based goods and services of all types are using apps to improve the customer experience. But does every business need an app? If you’re thinking about investing time and money into app creation, we’ll break down the factors you need to consider. 

How to know if you need an app

Mobile devices’ popularity is skyrocketing, and people spend a vast amount of time interacting with mobile apps on their smartphones and tablets. According to Pew Research, about 97% of Americans own some kind of cellphone, while 85% own a smartphone. Across the country, hands are busy tapping away on mobile apps, which account for 88% of the time spent on digital media for U.S. residents over 18, according to a report by eMarketer.

The question isn’t whether or not your company can benefit from its own mobile app, but under what circumstances is it practical to develop and maintain an app, consistently infusing it with fresh content and compelling features that keep customers coming back?

Did You Know?Did you know

Whether or not you develop a mobile app, It’s critical to optimize your business website for mobile devices. Google looks at mobile page load speed as a critical metric when determining your website’s search ranking.

Here are some factors to consider before deciding to app or not to app.

What is your goal?

When you’re thinking about developing a mobile app for your business, consider how you would use it and what precise functions you’d need.

A dedicated mobile app can assist current and future customers in many ways. It can introduce newcomers to your business and better serve existing customers in promoting new products and services, special offers, loyalty programs, and other perks for in-store or remote commerce. 

A mobile app also serves as a constant, real-time connection to your customers. They can check your hours, find locations, get directions, view available merchandise, and access any other information you choose.

Editor’s note: Looking for mobile app development for your business? If you’re looking for information to help you choose the one that’s right for you, use the questionnaire below to receive information from a variety of vendors for free.

Key TakeawayKey takeaway

A well-designed app makes all relevant information and services available in a minimal number of taps. If your app doesn’t make life easier and enhance value for your customers, you’re doing it wrong.

Who are your customers?

When considering mobile app creation, identify your customer base and their likelihood of using the app.

Most businesses seek broad customer appeal, with a base ranging in age from 18 to older than 65. According to App Annie, younger users (13-24 years old) visit apps more than twice as often as those over 45; however, they are likely to stop using an app if it doesn’t serve their needs. 

Those over 45 prefer mobile browsers over apps, though they tend to spend 25% more time in apps than younger users when they do use apps. In between these two ranges, users 25-44 years old engage highly with apps, particularly retail apps. 

How mobile-oriented are your customers?

Unsurprisingly, the same group that loves smartphone apps and looks forward to downloading new ones spends an astronomical amount of time playing around with them. Younger audiences use apps daily and understand how they function. They consume significant amounts of information during their mobile use. 

Due to the appeal of retail apps, users between 25 and 44 years old are the perfect audience if you’re looking to sell your products online via mobile or advertise an in-store experience

Those 45 years old and older don’t have as much knowledge of mobile apps and how they work because they’re more comfortable with desktop computer use. They’re more likely to use an app if it has familiar features and an easy-to-use interface. 


If you’re marketing to millennials, also known as Gen Y, word-of-mouth advertising is key. These users are more likely to buy from a brand a friend recommends.

What do your customers want?

If you’re considering a dedicated app, keep in mind what customers seek. According to data from Heady, customers rely on apps that provide a convenient and easy-to-use interface, as well as apps that have better prices or promotions not found on other platforms, such as the business’s website

The report showed that younger consumers (between the ages of 16 and 34) were more likely to choose an app because of personalization. On the other hand, those with an annual income of less than $50,000 are more likely to prioritize apps that integrate the use of mobile wallets for payment, such as Apple Pay and Google Pay.

How does an app improve on your current website?

When considering mobile websites vs. apps, mobile apps offer ease and convenience. A dedicated app can leverage your current online presence, even if your website was designed as a mobile-friendly, responsive site that easily transitions from desktop to mobile browsers and back. 

A website offering general information about your company is a necessity, like having a telephone. And like a telephone, your customers must expend effort to use it by searching out your homepage, bookmarking your site and navigating specific information. Even the friendliest mobile website is more complex and time-consuming than a mobile app.

Apps are inherently mobile. They don’t have to adapt to a different format, so they can be geared toward more immediate, customer-centric concerns. According to VWO, an A/B testing tool platform, users prefer mobile apps over mobile websites because they offer more personalization and efficiency, along with other features like notifications, offline mode and quick loading times.

What is your strategy for building an app?

Once you decide to build an app, the next step is to strategize the approach. Can you produce an app using an off-the-shelf app builder, or should you hire a professional mobile app developer to create one for you from scratch? 

App builders include AppMachine, BuildFire, GoodBarber and Shoutem. These tools are excellent resources for those who can spend the time to learn and use them. While using software to design your app is not especially difficult, it takes time, which may be something you don’t have – especially if you also have a business to run. In that case, consider pulling in additional expertise to lend a hand.

Did You Know?Did you know

Many mobile apps can benefit your business and its operations, including small business organization apps, secure messaging apps, and small business productivity apps.

How much can you spend to build and maintain an app?

Depending on whether you go for a mobile design and experience company to custom-design your app or a do-it-yourself app maker, expect to plunk down some cash. It’s tough to generalize across a vast range of businesses and app requirements, but there are some generalities.

  • DIY services: DIY services are inherently less expensive and can offer exciting, professional-looking results. Most services charge monthly fees from $20 and up, depending on your app, devices and marketplaces. Charges can also include hosting fees and app store placement. Make sure the company you choose is prepared to deal with regularly changing app store requirements from the likes of Google and Apple.
  • Professional developers: While prices vary widely, app development in the U.S. can range from $50 to $250 per hour. Startup product development team SpdLoad says developing a simple app can cost up to $60,000, while more complex apps can push six figures. Companies must also consider budgeting for updates and marketing, while apps requiring a back-end server or integrated APIs will cost even more. Building for both iOS and Android platforms will also add to the cost. The more features, complexity and platforms you build into your app, the higher the price will be.
  • Hybrid approach: You can also economize and enhance your professional results with a hybrid approach. Start with a DIY app maker, but use one whose company also offers in-house services. This way, you can devise the basic wireframe of your app first and then hand it off to the pros for advanced, specialized features. While a hybrid approach costs more than doing everything yourself, it’s cheaper than having an app firm design it from scratch.

What you need to know when developing an app

Mobile app development is a constantly changing landscape. There will be changes and new considerations about every six months or so when a new operating system version rolls out with unique features. 

Some Android and iOS updates can change how apps operate. To avoid incompatibility or cybersecurity issues, it’s critical to stay on top of updates and new developments. Keep in mind that updating your mobile app costs money. 

6 key steps in app development

Regardless of the project you want to bring to life, the app development process has six key steps. Breaking the project down into these simple steps will help you develop your app quickly and efficiently. 

  1. Idea: Figure out what problem your app solves, who you’re targeting with this app, why its features are important, and whether there are similar apps already out there. 
  2. Design: Create an interface that lets users easily navigate the app.
  3. Development: Write the code for your app, develop the code, and start preliminary testing.
  4. Testing: Determine the app’s quality, discover any malfunctions, and learn what you can improve.
  5. Launch: Once your app is bug-free and ready to go, publish it on marketplaces like the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store.
  6. Marketing: Create a marketing strategy to get users to download your app and give you feedback on improving user engagement.

Considering your app’s purpose and your budget

Your own dedicated smartphone app is likely to benefit your small business. Many users already enjoy the ease of mobile shopping. The mobile arena’s popularity means plenty of customers will eagerly await your app – it’s up to you to provide the services and user experiences they crave.

But no matter how much you want to build an app, developing an app is only worthwhile if it provides a great user experience and you have the budget to maintain it for the long term.

Jackie Dove contributed to the writing and research in this article.

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Sean Peek, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Analyst
Sean Peek is the co-founder of a self-funded small business that employs more than a dozen team members. His years of hands-on entrepreneurial experience in bootstrapping, operations management, process automation and leadership have strengthened his knowledge of the B2B world and the most pressing issues facing business owners today. Peek uses his expertise to guide fellow small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs in the areas of marketing, finance and software technology. Peek excels at developing customer bases and fostering long-term client relationships, using lean principles to drive efficiency and cost-saving, and identifying growth areas. He has demonstrated his business savvy through collaborations with Forbes, Inc., Entrepreneur and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
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