Mobile Strategy: It's Not All About the AppsBy Tony Kontzer Print
Preferred Hotels & Resorts has chosen to implement responsive Website design rather than cranking out mobile apps, and that approach may be the smart choice.
For most companies these days, it seems that "mobile strategy" is defined as putting out as many mobile applications as possible. There are apps for customers, apps for employees, and apps for partners and suppliers.
They do everything from enabling purchases made from smart phones to extending back-office processes to remote workers. In many cases, they are filling critical needs.
Sometimes, however, the best mobile strategy is to not crank out apps, no matter how relentlessly you're being hounded to do so.
That's precisely the approach Preferred Hotels & Resorts has taken. The Chicago-based company, which acts as a sort of marketing and reservation processing gateway for hundreds of independent boutique hotels, has built only one mobile application to date—and with good reason.
Back in 2012, Preferred saw the rate of access to its Website via mobile devices growing fast enough that it recognized a need to ramp up its focus on mobile. Rather than starting by designing mobile apps, it made a conscious decision to commit to responsive Web design.
Responsive design enables a Website to adapt the user's experience on the fly, depending on the screen size and format of the device being used. Elements on the page automatically expand and contract, buttons get bigger for easy finger tapping, and menus get condensed into the now ubiquitous hamburger icon, as it's called. In other words, Preferred effectively uses its Website to double as its core mobile app.
"If you're just replicating your Website in an app, you don't need it," says Charles Zieres, vice president of IT. "If there's something you need to do above and beyond the capabilities of the Website, that's when you need an app."
Zieres' thinking is straight-forward: The main functions of Preferred's site are to expose properties to potential guests and enable those guests to book rooms. If a responsive Website can make that easily doable on any device, why spend the time and money on an app?
What's more, Preferred's approach keeps Zieres' team from having to scramble every time mobile technology evolves. "When new phones or new devices are released, we don't have to rush to recode everything," he says.
A Mobile Approach That's Ahead of the Curve
Ed Simnett, lead analyst at Gigaom Research, says via email that while the hotel industry is a natural fit for mobile applications, Zieres and his team have chosen a path that is ahead of the curve. "Preferred's view is quite sophisticated," says Simnett. "There are far too many shelfware apps out there, which is a waste of investment and depressing for the team that worked on it."
Yet most companies just keep churning out the apps. In fact, in a recent report on mobile predictions for 2016, Forrester Research says that 62 percent of enterprises are increasing their budgets to pay for mobile apps next year.
Despite such numbers, Zieres says he's "not being swayed by the app boom." His skepticism comes not only from recognizing Preferred's value proposition, but also from understanding its limited potential profile in an increasingly crowded mobile universe.
"When you do an app, you're no longer competing with people in your market; you're competing with other apps for space on the phone screen," says Zieres. "As much I think of our company, I don't think hotels are something people want apps for on their phone."
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