It is that time of year again where people are rushing to get the best deals on Black Friday. The difference this year? Shoppers are not camping out in the parking lot as much as years past — they are grabbing their phone, launching their favorite shopping app, and hoping for a quick and easy experience to do all their holiday shopping.

So, which are the best apps for Black Friday shopping? I’m going to compare Amazon, Target and Walmart apps across core workflows that most shopping apps have: finding deals, finding gifts and purchasing.

Finding Deals: Those Black Friday Ads

If you want the best deals, and fast, you want a shopping experience that quickly gets right to the ads with all the deals. How many clicks does it take to get there? And how long does it take the ad pages of these apps to load? Let’s take a look:

Amazon: 2 steps from home screen
Target: 7 steps home home screen
Walmart: 3 steps from home screen
Finding Deals
Amazon: 2 steps
Target: 7 steps
Walmart: 3 steps

Walmart only makes you tap three times to get to the ads. Target doubles as a workout app and has you tapping seven times to get to the ads. Amazon is the champ and takes just two steps to get to the Black Friday ads. Amazon does has the advantage of having only one ad since they don’t have large box stores with different ads across the country. But that’s a good thing for the user — simplicity.

When you do finally get to the weekly ads, Target’s deals load almost instantaneously. Walmart’s deals take about a full three seconds to load — that’s a long time in the mobile world. Disappointingly, with all of Amazon’s engineering prowess, and the fact that they only have to deal with a single ad, their ads loaded the slowest at 6.6 seconds . That’s a puzzler. The engineers at Target are doing something smart and making the experience super fast for their Black Friday shoppers… once they get there.

Loading Deals
Amazon: 6.6 seconds
Target: Almost instant
Walmart: 3.1 seconds

It is tougher to find the ads in the Target app — you might get frustrated, or not even find them. But, when you do, it loads really fast. Walmart takes users to the ads quickly but then leaves them waiting for a page load. Which is best for Black Friday shopping depends on whether you like to click a lot or wait a lot :-/ . Seems the three teams could learn a lot from each other and hopefully next year the ads in all the apps are instantaneous and just a couple clicks away.

App Quality Tip: Pre-fetch
If you know you will need data, and what data you will need, fetch it before the user asks. Then you can look like a champ when you display it instantly, not just on-demand like an old school web link click. Pull all that data down locally and get it ready before the user asks for it. If you don’t, your app won’t feel buttery. Remember, today’s smart phones are little super computers with lots of storage — leverage it for elegance.

The best app for viewing ads? Looking at both the number of steps it takes to find them and how long it takes to load them… it’s an anticlimactic three-way tie.

Finding Gifts: Searching For that Specific Toy

I have kids, and every year, they somehow know the exact toy they want. However, the toys they want might not always be in an ad. So, how do we find them? We search!

Let’s see how the search experiences stack up and search for LEGOs across our shopping apps:

Searching on Amazon is just a couple steps
Searching in Target’s app is a bit more cumbersome
Searching in Walmart’s app is easy
Searching for Toys
Amazon: 2 steps
Target: 4 steps
Walmart: 2 steps

Target’s search experience is pretty typical. In all, it takes about 4 steps to find a LEGO product page. The Walmart and Amazon search experiences get their users to the products in fewer steps.

Loading Search Results
Amazon: 1.6 seconds
Target: 3.7 seconds
Walmart: 3.8 seconds

Amazon’s search results are over twice as fast as Walmart and Target. Twice as fast is a huge deal, and can lead to differences in overall user perception of app quality. Amazon’s users aren’t left staring at the screen waiting on the app.

App Quality Tip: Cache
Cache everything. Well, everything that’s reasonable. Don’t keep pulling your company’s logo down via URL every time the app is launched. Unless you are building a real-time stock quote app, you can probably cache almost all your URL calls. It is too easy to do this right with libraries like SDWebImage. Cache. Cache. Cache.

The best app for searching for toys? Amazon.

Purchasing: Signing in and Checking Out

Now that we’ve found some great deals on some great toys, how do we buy them? You need to be logged in and logging into an app can be frustrating. Let’s see how these apps did:

Signing into Amazon’s app is short and sweet
Signing into Target’s app bounces users to a web page and pops permission dialogs
Signing into Walmart’s app is quick and simple
Signing In
Amazon: 3 steps
Target: 9 steps
Walmart: 4 steps

Amazon and Walmart again seem to have better app designs, better flows for users to sign-in. However, did you notice that the Walmart sign-in button can get stuck behind the keyboard? Target’s users not only need more clicks to sign-in, but also are forced to go through permission dialogs after they sign-in whether they like it or not. Target users also have to load a web browser in the process — great apps have a native login user interface, or at least have the browser hidden from the user (hybrid app).

time (after username and password)
Amazon: 5.3 seconds
Target: 8.7 seconds
Walmart: 5 seconds

While both Amazon and Walmart clock in at around five seconds, five seconds is still a long time for users to wait for the app to sign-in. Try counting to five slowly right now. Now imagine the millions of people using that app who will be wasting their time signing in this Black Friday. Worse, these are customers that have a full shopping cart and are trying to buy toys. These apps are relying on people to be patient and free of distraction during those five seconds.

App Quality Tip: Go Native
It is very tempting to just load your responsive website into a hybrid app. These types of apps can be built in just days. It is also tempting to just point users to a mobile web page. Your users will prefer the native version if you can afford to build a nice one. Native, especially on iOS, is just plain faster, looks better, and has lots of transitions and effects that you just can’t get with HTML5 today. If you want an elegant app, it has to be native.

The best app for signing in? Amazon by a keyboard.

Our Winner: Amazon

From our analysis above, Amazon is the best of the three apps for Black Friday shoppers. And let’s be honest with ourselves — these stores are all selling the same basic toys, all at about the same price. The major difference is the shopping experience.

Our shopping experiences, along with most of our other experiences, are moving to mobile. Those experiences have to be awesome to remain competitive. It seems that apps are getting better year by year, but there is still plenty for app designers, developers, and testers to learn between now and the next Black Friday come 2019.