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Many Small Businesses Take DIY Path to Mobile Apps

By David Jones
Apr 4, 2018 9:40 AM PT
small companies often develop mobile apps in house

Nearly half of all the small businesses that participated in a recent survey said they handled their mobile application development in house, in part to cut costs and speed time to deployment.

The results of the study, which The Manifest released on Tuesday, showed that 46 percent of the 350 small businesses polled used in-house staff to develop critical mobile applications in an effort to drive new business.

Forty-one percent used freelancers or consultants to develop mobile apps, while 39 percent called on agencies for app development. Thirty-eight percent used DIY application builders with drag-and-drop functionality.

Resource Constraints

"The biggest impediment is almost certainly the resources needed to make a quality mobile app product," noted Riley Panko, senior writer at The Manifest. "Mobile apps are expensive and time consuming."

The goal of the study was to explore how small businesses -- which often have less of a budget or staff than more established competitors -- approach application development, according to Panko.

App development has become a critical component of many small companies' business operations in recent years.

About 47 percent of businesses with more than 50 employees had an app prior to 2017, based on The Manifest's findings. About 48 percent of small businesses spent less than US$25,000 to design, build and launch their mobile apps. Only about a third of companies with a single employee had an app, and the other two-thirds said they were unlikely to get one.

Why Build an App?

Fifty-eight percent of small businesses did not have an app, Clutch found in a survey it conducted earlier this year.

The overall cost factor is an important issue for small businesses considering a mobile app. Many businesses don't have a good grasp of the true cost of app development. While nearly half spend less than $25,000, about 37 percent spend between $25,000 and $100,000 on app development, and 15 percent spend more than $150,000, the Clutch study found.

The question of whether small businesses should invest in small business apps was at the heart of the firm's research.

Growth in small business app development was stagnant, the survey showed, with 42 percent of small businesses reporting that they had a mobile app in 2017 and 2018.

Twenty-eight percent of small businesses decided to launch a small business app to find new customers, which in many cases was a misguided goal, according to Clutch.

The ability to handle mobile payments was the most valuable app feature, the survey found.

Better for Some

The decision to develop a mobile app depends largely on the type of business a company is engaged in, suggested Adam Blacker, communications lead and brand ambassador for Apptopia.

"Most small businesses will do well with a mobile website that is optimized for mobile," he told the E-Commerce Times. Although "a download is less of a barrier than it used to be for a small firm, people just probably want to visit their site and not download an app."

If a small business makes deliveries, it might make sense for them to have a mobile app.

The value of a mobile app depends largely on the type of interactions the business is trying to support, observed Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

"For example, if you have a business that depends on motor and foot traffic to drive new sales, like a restaurant or specialty retailer," he told the E-Commerce Times, "then investing in an app optimized for mobile devices makes sense."


David Jones has been an ECT News Network reporter since 2015. His areas of focus include cybersecurity, e-commerce, open source, gaming, artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles. He has written for numerous media outlets, including Reuters, Bloomberg, Crain's New York Business and The New York Times. Email David.


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