More than ever, consumers use smartphones and tablets to research purchasing decisions within a 10- to 20-mile radius of their location.  In fact, Google estimates 95 percent of smartphone users have looked for local information, resulting in 61 percent calling a business, 59 percent visiting a business and 44 percent making a purchase.

The fact is that mobile local commerce is happening every day. Local and small businesses should not only be thinking about how mobile can help their business, they should be fast-tracking their mobile plans. Here are seven reasons why apps should be an essential piece of a smart SMB mobile strategy.

Reason 1: Mobile Is Here Now

Sixty-seven percent of consumers use their smartphones to find store locations, 59 percent to compare prices, 51 percent to obtain product information, 45 percent to read reviews, 45 percent to shop online, 41 percent to find and use coupons and 35 percent to access social media (Source: Deloitte’s 2011 Annual Holiday Survey). Small businesses need to get into the mobile game now to garner their share of mobile business and to ensure they don’t lose out to mobilized competitors.

Reason 2: A Mobile Website Is Not a Complete Mobile Strategy

A mobile website is great for helping your business appear in mobile searches. But it’s only one piece of an effective mobile strategy. With a mobile app, you can truly engage and build loyalty with your customers by making it easy for them to do business with you while they are on the go. From scheduling appointments and enabling credit card or PayPal transactions, to email messaging, social sharing and delivering coupon offers—apps are essential to maximizing your investment in mobile.

Reason 3: Apps Build Customer Loyalty

Mobile websites are primarily about discovery, which is especially important for a new business. Apps, on the other hand, focus on building loyalty with current customers. This makes apps a wise investment for SMBs, when you consider that it’s estimated that it costs from six to seven times more to gain a new customer than to retain one (Source: Bain Consulting).

Reason 4: Users Prefer Apps to Browsers

Tap, swipe, pinch and wave – consumers use apps to execute some of the most popular mobile commerce activities.  Indeed, 64 percent of affluent app users say they view brands with mobile apps more favorably (Source: Luxury Institute, 2012).

Reason 5: Branding and Visibility

Apps give a business a constant visible presence (via an icon) on a user’s most accessed screen. This is something even the most popular website can never achieve. What’s more, apps can provide content regardless of Internet connectivity.

Reason 6: The Power of a Native, Custom Experience

Mobile apps provide a powerful, native, custom experience which cannot be replicated by a mobile website. Features like those in App Express apps are unique to the app experience, like mobile payments, scheduling, couponing and in-app messaging. A mobile app becomes a direct communication channel to your customers.

Reason 7: Mobile Apps Are Now Affordable for SMBs

Until now, small businesses have been missing out on the wide range of opportunities mobile apps offer, simply due to cost. Creating a custom mobile app can cost thousands of dollars compared with the negligible cost of creating a mobile website. Thanks to App Express, SMBs can now afford their own custom app. The platform brings all the power of mobile apps to SMBs at an affordable price that will more than pay for itself as it helps build customer loyalty and provide access to mobile commerce dollars.