If you have followed the growth of mobile eCommerce, you have probably received a lot of contradictory cues from the press and, even, respected researchers like Forrester, seem to offer conflicting views about web shopping on mobile devices.
In part, the discrepancies have to do with the definition of ‘mobile’ devices. Does it only apply to cell phones? What about tablets? What about smaller tablets or larger phones? What about shoppers using a tablet or mobile device on their home wifi; are they really ‘mobile’?
However, the merchant whose website is optimized for a desktop/laptop experience should see clouds on the horizon… clouds that will mean rain (i.e., revenue) for those who get their mobile strategy right and rough seas for those who do not.
- Pew research indicates that over a third of US adults own a tablet of some kind and, that number is growing rapidly.
- Reports also show that over 50% of US cell phone users have a smartphone.
- Research shows that more and more people rely on their phone or tablet exclusively to access the Internet. This is especially true in some countries where mobile devices, especially smartphones, are the primary means of Internet access for consumers.
- Because mobile shopping is expected to double this holiday season as compare to last year’s, a site that does not have a competitive mobile experience will probably end up losing market share now that will drag into 2014.
An Online Merchant’s Mobile Readiness Checklist
Here are a few tips for merchants on how best to create a mobile eCommerce strategy that will deliver a great experience:
1) Start with your shoppers
Each brand has a different following and expectations of a shopping experience from their customers. Your site analytics should tell you how much traffic you get from mobile devices. Be sure to slice and dice the numbers.
o How do conversion rates and average purchase amounts differ between phone, tablet and desktop purchasers?
o Look at mobile use geographically.
o Add mobile awareness to your dashboards/reviews.
Digging into the numbers will undoubtedly reveal areas of opportunity. If your mobile device traffic is less than 10% of your overall traffic, you may have some time to address the issue, but, chances are your mobile traffic will increase substantially over the next 6 months.
Sample Site Mobile Traffic
However, if mobile traffic is 25% or more of your traffic, look for discrepancies in conversion rates between mobile devices and desktop devices for opportunities to close the gap.
2) Map out your user experience on various mobile devices
Has your team evaluated the shopping experience on a wide enough variety of devices? Did they include tablets and cell phones? If it was done more than six months ago, has it been updated to include newer devices and/or updates to operating systems?
Start with the devices your analytics show to be important to your customer base. Look for pain points customers encounter when using those devices and prioritize the solutions. Google analytics will show you your traffic by type of device, operating system, and, even browser. You can easily sort the report and have an immediate device and mobile OS priority list.
Sample Site Analytics by Device
It’s always a great best practice to role play and put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Go through several scenarios and see where your customer may potentially have a bad experience and how that might lead them to leave your site and more importantly, not complete a transaction.
The merchant should own the process of prioritization, not the tech guys. While a developer can tell you how much effort it will take to address specific issues, they will tend to gravitate toward problems they know they can solve quickly, or whose solutions carry an appealing technical challenge. At this stage of the process, however, you need to focus on what is important to your shoppers.
3) Commit to a strategy (or two, if you can afford it)
If you’ve spent time investigating the possibilities, you are probably aware that there are three main technical approaches to providing a good experience for mobile shoppers:
Mobile site: Hosted on a separate domain, a mobile site often bears a completely separate design. Typically, the url is a subdomain like m.yoursite.com or mobile.yoursite.com. In the Magento world, there are even some extensions that will create a mobile site from your current site, only requiring a modest amount of configuration and a few minor tweaks to your server or DNS settings. The advantage of a mobile site is that it is easy to optimize images and content for mobile devices without affecting your desktop version. The disadvantages are that you have to maintain a completely separate design and, as screen sizes evolve and new devices emerge between phones and tablets; your site may become dated quickly.
Mobile app: Large merchants and marketplaces like eBay have gravitated to this solution because it gives additional control over the shopping experience, even allowing for the creation of new experiences for shoppers that are not possible in a mobile browser. However, this approach is expensive to set up and requires an ongoing investment in maintenance to keep up with new releases in mobile operating systems. Before you commit to an investment in a mobile app, you should consider if your customer base is committed enough to their relationship with you to download a piece of software and install it on their mobile device.
Responsive design: Responsive design is an approach to designing a web site in such a way that it’s layout adapts to the screen width of the device it is being viewed on. If you have begun researching mobile strategy, you almost certainly have run into this term. The promise of a responsive design is that it is device-agnostic. Thus, as screen sizes change and mobile OS’s change, the design will continue to provide a consistent experience. The downside of responsive design is that they often run slower on mobile devices than mobile sites because the mobile device has to download the same media files as the desktop site, even though they may not be viewable on the mobile device. Much effort has been made by the practitioners of responsive design to abate the potential downsides of responsive design and, a good responsive designer can truly make a difference in mobile performance.
Technically, it is possible to follow more than one path at once, but, budget constraints usually mean a choice must be made. However, if you introduce a mobile app, it is still a good idea to use either a responsive design or mobile site for those shoppers who prefer not to install an app.
Ready, Set, Go!
Chart by IB Times
Over $38 billion in mobile purchases are predicted to take place in 2013 when all is said and done, which is about 3 times more than 2012’s number. That number is expected to grow substantially between today and 2017. We believe that the window of time for merchants to develop and implement their mobile strategy is closing and that future growth will depend on providing a great mobile shopping experience.
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