I’ve been looking at conversion across my company’s customers and I’m seeing a pattern that is counter to the assumptions of conventional wisdom: about half the visits are from native applications and the other half come from mobile web.

More importantly for retailers: half the conversion is coming from native apps in addition to half the visits. This means transactional native applications cannot be overlooked as a part of your mobile strategy.

I haven’t seen any other studies to compare this observation. I was speaking with Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru Wednesday and asked her if she had seen any other data along these lines and she said she also hadn’t seen any studies looking at conversion between mobile web and native channels. I suspect that I have a unique perspective since my customers tend to cover three, four, five or more channels.

Transactional native applications cannot be overlooked as a part of your mobile strategy.

I think retailers have created a self-fulfilling prophesy: mobile web dominates retailing because retailers generally haven’t done the heavy lifting of offering fully-transactional native applications. Let’s face it, retailers are comfortable with web development, but native development is less familiar.

There are multiple SDKs, languages, and development environments to learn. Traditional web analytics, reporting, and checkout APIs are more difficult to implement from native applications. Frequent updates are also difficult from native apps – especially with the multiple environments to support.

However, we’re seeing what bankers have seen to be true for a while now – you can’t pick and choose channels to support. Some customers want to use native apps and some customers want to use mobile web. It depends upon the person, the phone, their relationship to you, what they’re trying to do, and when they’re trying to do it.

You need to be there when the customer is ready.

Furthermore, we’re seeing over 30% higher conversion for iPhone native app customers vs. mobile web customers. Therefore it’s imperative to have a well-designed, transactional app for those customers that want to use it. It also makes sense to drive users to that app to try to increase conversion overall.

The ROI is pretty easy to calculate. Offering both mobile web and native applications significantly increases the number of visits and the number of purchases and significantly increases the conversion rate for a significant subset of native customers.

Why would you want to miss half your customers – especially the ones that are more likely to purchase?