There’s no doubt that mobile is the wave of the future. “It’s the fastest-growing online space—millions are using smartphones to browse the web and connect with brands, including salons, on the go,” says Kelly Ehlers, the founder of the social media consulting firm Evoke Brand Strategies and the online social media training program StyleSeat.me. “Let’s face it, most of us roll over in the morning, shut off the alarm, grab the phone and start looking for news and information.”

And if a potential client happens to be seeking a new salon and you don’t have a mobile website that’s been optimized for mobile browsing, you might as well not exist. What’s a mobile website? Think of it as a mobile version of you current desktop site. When customers Google you on their site, they’ll access the ‘mobile’ version of your site.

“But for salons who built their sites in Flash, which was all the rage years ago, their sites aren’t even viewable on mobile,” says Ehlers. “So it’s important to partner with a company that has developed a mobile website platform. It’s as easy as combing your existing site and reformatting it for mobile, can be very cost effective and can be done in a few days without a web designer.”

When designing a mobile site, think about providing all the information a user would be searching for, such as directions, hours, and your phone number. “Speaking of phone numbers, a beneficial feature is the integration of phone number where the user simply has to tap the number to call directly,” says Ehlers. “For example, we just worked with the TONI & GUY Academies site and designed it so each location has direct email contact so potential students can search their local academy and email admissions to set a tour date.”

But the must-have design element on the mobile site, according to Ehlers, is easy linkage to all the salon’s social platforms. “Since client are already coming on your site searching for information, why not capitalize on the opportunity to extend the conversations. For example, if the user can quickly hit the Fackbook icon or link, then they can easily connect with you on a daily basis.”

Other mobile website capabilities include: mobile booking, mobile shopping, mobile-friendly text reminders, contact or request forms, ability to drive consumers to sites for sign up/sampling programs, mobile coupons/promotions.

Do I Need a Salon App?

So, it’s clear salons need to establish mobile versions of their website, but what about a mobile app? Isn’t that the same thing? No, although they can look very similar, says Ehlers.

“A mobile website is just that—a link to a site that is designed specifically for a smartphone or device, and they can be designed with a ‘bookmark’ feature that can be downloaded onto a smartphone, so that’s why they can be mistaken for an app,” says Ehlers. “An app on the other hand, is downloaded and installed on your device—it’s not shown through a web browser, and they much be accessed through sites like they Apple App Store or Android Market. Apps then can be accessed without an internet connection.”

Apps, on the other hand, are primarily used for interactivity—think gaming, personalizing details, calculating, reporting. “Personally, I can think of very few scenarios from a salon owner standpoint that would ever make sense to spend the significant time and money needed to create their own app.”