What I’m Asked Series: What is the Difference Between Responsive Web and Native Apps?

In this aptly titled recurring series, ‘What I’m Asked’ I try to give a high-level understanding of some of e-commerce more complicated questions.

My name is Alec Boyd and I’m the Head of Growth at Sandbox Commerce. Most of my day is spent chatting with e-commerce business from a variety of sizes. Whether I’m chatting with a Chief Marketing Officer or a business owner who is trying to quit their 9-5, the question of ‘What’s the difference between responsive web and native apps?’ always comes up.

Native Apps

Native apps are the easier of the two to grasp. We all have apps on our phones and understand that they live on our phone, have their own icons. They also have their own OS and are designed to work on a specific device – this usually results in a safer transaction and better user UI. We’ll dive into more of the pros and cons momentarily.

Responsive Web

To get started, let’s get a table stakes understanding of what ‘reactive web’ is. Responsive websites are designed to automatically adapt to any screen size. Whether a user pulls up your site on a 27″ monitor or their phone, the website will adapt and scale to display your website.

As e-commerce began to shift towards mobile, it didn’t take long for retailers to realize that they had to adapt. Those who weren’t willing to would be left behind as their competitors grabbed a larger market share.

The Good

Responsive web became a very popular option for a single reason…. price. Retailers found making a great responsive website justifiable in comparison to the hefty cost of native app development. Traditionally native app development starts around $150k and 6 months of development.

The Bad

Lagging: Responsive websites tend to have poor performance. Images and animations are too heavy. Connection speeds and phone performances can really exacerbate the issue too.

Navigation: Responsive web also lacks natural navigation. iOS and Android users have different navigations and UI’s. Responsive web can get close, but it will never feel completely natural for shoppers.

The Ugly

Push Notifications: Responsive web will never have the ability to send push notifications. Some of our greatest success stories have been from savvy marketers making push notifications a powerful call the action. Responsive web will never be able to interact with users outside of their browser – when everyone is fighting for engagement, it’s hard to not see the advantage

Security: When a shopper connects to a responsive webpage through a browser, they’re exposed to trackers and other liabilities associated with public connections. Native apps offer a much more secure shopping experience. The user connects directly to the business without intervention from 3rd parties.


At a quick glance, responsive web and native apps don’t seem like they have many differences, but once you dive into functionalities – native apps are the clear winner.

It was understandable when medium-sized retailers couldn’t justify such a hefty cost to build out their own app. Sandbox Commerce has created an easy way for all sizes of retailers to design and launch their own app and avoid the hefty upfront cost. The list of reasons to ignore native apps is shrinking…

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