Choosing between an App, a Bot & the Both

There are still many of us who may feel that chatbots are still “relatively new” concepts and introducing them to your customers may be considered leading edge. Well, here are some interesting facts about chatbots that may seem to prove otherwise.

  1. One in Ten people have already used chatbots in their eCommerce experience while additional Three or more are open to gain that experience.
  2. More than 70% of a decent sized survey participants reported that their reason to interact with a chatbot was to seek product recommendations and offers.
  3. In another survey, 68% gravitated towards chatbots with an intention to increase their productivity. About 42% of them reported that ease of use, convenience & speed “almost as fast as searching on the internet” were major a motivation.
- Conversational Commerce: Growth - Development - Usage by Statista
- Why people use chatbots by Petter Bae Brandtzaeg & Asbjørn Følstad

However we have already seen a drastic shift in use of smartphone apps over desktop or laptop devices when it comes to online shopping. Most Consumers are very comfortable with accessing product reviews, making purchases, tracking status, etc. from their mobile phone apps. We also know that the number of messenger bots is growing and many organizations are investing in them. In our article, What’s so nice about Messaging bots? , we had shared that Facebook Messenger alone has more than 100K unique bots online as of 2017.

Thus, for businesses who really wish to leverage these platforms for growth and customer engagement / satisfaction, it is quite understandable to be in the dilemma of choosing between an App, a Bot or both. In this article we will cover some points you might need to consider to help drive your decision. To be clear upfront, choosing just one amongst the App or Bot is not realistic as both are equally strong channels for your businesses. However, what we will try to address here are factors that you should consider in developing a suitable roadmap for your business.

Case for a Mobile App

Smartphone Features

It is a commonly known fact that a smartphone is more than just a cellular device. It hosts a bunch of components, such as in-built GPS, accelerometer, gyrometer, camera, etc., that make it “smart”. App developers leverage these components in their apps to provide comfort, convenience and an astounding experience. For example – Google Maps that shows you restaurants around you no matter where you are, or, health apps that calculate your calories based on distance and motion, and so on.

Putting that in perspective, if the use case being targeted for your consumers need to rely on these “smart” components, developing a mobile app becomes a natural choice.


The alternative to a mobile app in this context would be a chatbot, especially made available through some of the most popular messaging platforms, such as Facebook Messenger, Twitter Direct Messages, Kik Messenger, etc. (Why? see below).

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 12.14.41 PM

Source: Conversational Commerce: Growth - Development - Usage by Statista

Since the messenger is an app managed by one of the platform providers listed above, there are very limited branding capabilities (at least right now) available on them. The branding and general experience, as a matter of fact, differs on different messaging platforms.

So the case-in-point is that with mobile apps designed and owned by you, you can provide a consistent experience and branding to the users irrespective of the platforms you provide them on.

Access Controls

Quite often mobile apps are an extension of users profile and presentation of the data associated with that profile. For example, in the case of a fitness tracking app, all the fitness records are maintained and displayed according to the user’s profile. In the case of bots, such access controls needs to be authenticated using non-traditional means, such as a companion app or text message verifications, etc.

The only prominent difference with authentication between an app versus chatbot is that in the case of chatbot the user may need to authenticate during each new session whereas in case of an app, the sign in is a part of the initial setup process.

Thus, depending on the kind of experience desired for your users, the choice of an app versus a bot can be made.

Case for a Bot

Frontline Sales agent

If you are a store-business, imagine the role of your frontline sales agent. S/he is responsible to greet customers and point them to appropriate departments. They are also constantly looking around to find customers with questions and help answer them. The idea with a bot is to create a very similar experience for your online customers as well. In fact, you might agree that the online bot (agent) would be more knowledgable and even provide thorough help to the customers rather than just pointing them to places. The expectations in this case are to create an empathic relationship and therefore a simple search like function may not be good enough.

Another aspect to be considered here to place such agents on channels where the customer find him/herself comfortable. This is where even websites seem to be inefficient and messaging platforms seem to be more productive. Ultimately, the customer wants someone to talk to! and with technologies we are speaking about here, it is definitely possible to do that at a scale and round-the-clock.

Transactional Enquiries

Transactional enquiries are typically short questions leading to some sort of a personalized action. For example, a simple enquiry to seek availability for an appointment may ultimately lead to actually setting up an appointment. Another example might be an enquiry about the status of a recently placed order requires looking up an order based on user profile or a reference number provided to the customer in his/her previous transaction.

But how does a bot actually help here? Well, to see the value of a bot, we need to think of the entire experience for these “short” transactional enquiries. With a bot, the customer does not search for a number to call. Upon connection, the customer would not have to key in a bunch of options to be connected to the right department where s/he may still need to be put on hold. With a bot, all the customer needs to do is connect to the bot and ask the question! Truly short, huh?

Unified Platform for Customers

App Stores are exploding with number of apps they have to offer. How many do you install on your mobile phones? How many times do you have to uninstall an app to make room for another one or a few more pictures? Following few charts shows that the preference of most smartphone users recently has been to have fewer apps. There is a sense of need for consolidation of apps and chatbots provided via the messaging platforms referred earlier are making it possible. The messaging platform allows users satisfy the necessity to stay connected with family and friends while at the same time being also acting as a portal to connect with their favorite (preferred) businesses.







We deliberately did not cover the discussion around hybrid use cases where both mobile apps and bots might prove useful. The reason is because it is really a combination of the benefits we listed above. Remember, chatbots is an additional channel for your customers (or employees). Their popularity and preference is growing at a pretty fast rate. However, good judgement is required in developing a solution and experience for your business needs – in many cases it is the choice between where visuals make sense and where intimacy needs to be deployed.

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