5 essential tips for mobile commerce success close

Julie Coassin
Julie Coassin
In Musings, Codegent College, Apps
14th June 2011
5 essential tips for mobile commerce success

Research by eBay recently revealed that mobile shopping could receive a £4.5bn boost in the UK by 2016, rising to as much as £19bn by 2021, if nurtured correctly. The rapid growth in smartphone penetration has clearly helped mobile commerce to gain increasing acceptance amongst both users and retailers.

Smartphones represent 24% of all mobiles sold worldwide between January and March – up from 15% a year before - and the 50% tipping point may only be a year or so away (via The Guardian). This is an exceptional opportunity for retailers to speed up their mobile efforts and drive more sales.

However although mobile commerce’s popularity is growing and the majority of retailers are convinced that it will eventually become as popular as e-commerce, just 16% have a strategy in place, and 28% have no plans to implement one (Vanson Bourne survey of 100 marketing and IT directors at UK retailers, and 1,000 consumers).

Smartphones are taking a central position in our daily routine, not just to make phone calls but to access the web, look for recipes, check our Twitter, Facebook, find a restaurant, read news... Now users are also showing an increasing appetite for carrying out transactions on these devices; however their expectations of mobile commerce are pretty high so when jumping onto the “m-commerce” bandwagon you need to make sure you do it well. There are 10 million UK consumers using mobile commerce but 83% say they have experienced problems. (Tealeaf survey)

Below are few of the important things to think about when developing your mobile commerce site that will help you mitigate against potential problems that some mobile users experience.

  1. Mobile site or Native App. What is the best?

    First let’s define both terms: a native application is a piece of software designed and developed to run specifically on a computer, smartphone, or tablet. So for example a native application developed for the iPhone will need to run on its proprietary iOS platform. The mobile web refers to the browser-based Internet experience on mobile devices. Mobile websites have the ability to run across essentially any platform with a built-in web browser.

    There is no “best route” and you can’t just pick and choose which channels to support without a bit of research as it mostly depends on who your customers are, what devices they use, what they are trying to do and when. You need to be there when the customer is ready. 

    In a report revealed at the end of last year, comScore’s MobileLens indicates that nearly twice as many smartphone users accessed online retail via a website rather than a native app, BUT some other reports seems to show higher conversion rates for native iPhone apps versus typical mobile websites. 

    My recommendation would be to start with a mobile site, and then upgrade at a later stage to an application. This is actually a very good way to first test on mobile web what works or not, take learnings, customer’s feedback from their experience and then use that as a foundation to build applications for iPhone, Android or other mobile platforms.  

    So why should you start with a mobile site? Well, a mobile site has a greater appeal to customers across a variety of phones. Basically you don’t need to design multiple apps and anyone with a web connection can access your mobile site. It is therefore also a cheaper option! If you opt for an app you will restrict your mobile customer base to users of compatible handsets. In the case of Apple you will also need to wait for approval before release and before you can make tweaks to your app. 

    Having a mobile site means you are freer, in control and users always get the latest version as you can push updates whenever you wish! Another good thing about a mobile site for commerce is that users looking for a particular product can come across your mobile optimised site using any of the search engines and via links from other websites, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and those embedded in emails. Whereas with an app, users will have to actively search for it and then download it to their phone. That sounds like a lot to ask of your customers, especially if they are new ones.

    Additionally, there are several apps stores gathering tons of apps. Unless you are a large retailer (and even so), it usually takes a lot of effort to feature in the App Store charts and you will need a very well defined strategy to break into the top list for your category in order to not get lost in the crowd. (Find out more about app store optimization)

    One argument for apps over the mobile web is the additional functionality that apps can offer but the next generation of the web language HTML5, although the completion is expected in 2014 and its implementation on mobile devices is still both fragmented and incomplete, is able to offer many features that make it possible to create web based applications that behave like native apps (geolocation, access to the phone’s camera, offline storage, video/audio streaming...). HTML5’s advantages of cross-platform compatibility, channel freedom (not being dependent on the app stores), enhanced discoverability due to better search engines etc. provides the opportunity to develop both faster and cheaper, with a wider audience to sell to. The Financial Times just launched a HTML5 Web App that enables readers to access content across tablets and smartphones. 

    Please don’t think I am against apps, I’m really not! I love apps and they should be developed when there is a need to provide functionality that goes beyond what HTML5 can offer (richer experience, photo function, games, augmented reality...) but when it comes to retail I truly think mobile sites are great. This is even truer if you are a small business, as it will end up being more financially effective. However if you already know that a large percentage of your visitors are iPhone or Android users, then you might want to look into developing dedicated mobile apps. Finally if you really want to do a massive push in the mobile area, why not try developing both a mobile site and an app like Ebay has done? 

    In case you want to read more on the recurring subject:
    Will HTML5 Replace Native Apps Any Time Soon?
    HTML5 Is An Oncoming Train, But Native App Development Is An Oncoming Rocket Ship
    HTML5 vs. Mobile App. The Winner is…
    Mobile commerce: should you have a site or an app?
    Mobile commerce: ten reasons to choose the web over apps
    Native App vs. Web App: Which Is Better for Mobile Commerce?

  2. Redirect mobile searchers to the mobile version of your site.

    This sounds obvious but detecting which type of device a user is browsing with and redirecting to the correct version of the site is essential. You made the effort to build a mobile site so promote it! This will provide a great user experience and it will likely make your users stay on the site. In addition, if you are going to develop a mobile site, it is important all pages deliver the same user experience – i.e. sending users to pages non-optimised for mobiles is a no-no. 

  3. Keep your mobile site simple, but not too simple.

    Your mobile site should be a “lite” version of your desktop site, first of all because it needs to load very fast but also because of the size of the device. Any funky and flashy features should be left to the desktop experience. However, there should be no real disadvantage to using a retailer’s mobile version and users expect the same sort of browsing and buying experience as they would from their laptops and PCs. Consumers want to find the exact same products and the same product availability as on the main site. Therefore you need to provide full product specs, quality photos, videos and reviews.

    A few tips:

    • Provide obvious buttons and call to actions that stand out by using different sizes and colours
    • For users who know what they are looking for offer them a search function
    • Think of users who are likely to make mistakes whilst typing a search term from a smartphone and add an autosuggest to your search box
    • Consider slow connection speeds and ensure you are minimising the amount of data each of your page uses (ie: reduce the size of your images, limit the quantity of text)
    • Provide an effective filter option
    • In addition to all the various information about the product (price, photos, details...), display delivery details on your product page as the user will certainly not take the time to go up to the checkout to find that information. You will most likely lose a sale. 

    It seems paradoxal, but you will have to find the right balance between making your mobile site simple and very quick to load whilst still maintaining as much functionality as possible. The M&S mobile site is a great example, you can browse their entire product range, yet the navigation is very simple, you can sort items and search. Their mobile commerce site has generated over 1.2m unique users and taken single purchase orders exceeding £3,000 since its launch in May 2010. Pretty impressive! 

  4. Don't make registration compulsory and offer mobile payment options.

    First of all, don’t force your users to register before you actually close a sale. That is something I explained a while ago on a blog article: how to build an effective sign up form. Let your customers purchase first and then let them deal with registration afterwards (if they want). This is even more important on a mobile with a smaller screen and keyboard as you want a very smooth and pain-free process. By making users register before the checkout you are adding at least three fields to fill in and most of this information will be asked during the payment process anyway!  

    When it comes to entering credit card details on a smartphone, it is likely many customers will abandon rather than try. So try and work around that barrier and really make the purchase experience very friendly.  The aim is to reduce as much as you can the number of clicks to make it really easy for existing customers to shop and keep shopping on your site. The Amazon model is one to follow. It is so easy to buy on their site that it’s no surprise to me they have such large mobile sales figures.

    If you are a recurrent Amazon user, they already have your payment details stored and in less than 6 clicks you are done with your purchase on the mobile. At checkout, they ask your email address and password to generate a page asking you to choose a delivery option. Then on the next page you will be asked to select your payment method, all the cards you have previously added on your Amazon account will appear with their expiry date. Consumers can then either enter a new shipping address or opt to send to one already linked with their account. Once these choices are made, the consumer clicks on the checkout button and the transaction is completed. Pretty easy and even easier with their 1-Click order option.

    By storing credit card details in the registered account profile of existing customers you are removing the laborious process of entering the credit card number, expiration date and delivery address on a small screen. You probably think saving customers payment details on your site is adding a bit more PCI compliance hassle, but it will turn out to be an excellent way to attract repeat business from mobile users and most third party payment platforms have this functionality freely available to be integrated with.

    Some users will prefer using other payment options such as PayPal or any other alternative payment (Google checkout) that they know as secure and legitimate. The payment process is reduced to entering a username and password. These options reassure customers that are concerned about entering their card details via mobile and they also eliminate the need to fill in lengthy forms.

    Another good idea is to offer phone support to sceptical users who need more reassurance to get involved. Make sure you always have a phone number available on the product details page and on the checkout page so customers can complete the transaction by phone. 

    Finally, you could look into offering “collection in store” rather than mobile checkout options. The famous “reserve and collect” from Argos is an excellent method of generating sales from offline shoppers, but to make it work, keep the time between reservation and collection to a minimum. 

  5. Location, location, location.

    In mobile, location is context so it is important you know where your users are when accessing your mobile site. 

    Apps and now HTML5 employ some of the smartphone’s most advanced features and functions, such as the GPS system, to fetch the user’s location.  This is such a great thing to customise a mobile site experience to a consumer’s location.  It often grinds my gears to see that some global retailers are not able to direct me straight to the right local version of their site and ask me to choose my location... (I am particularly looking at you Ikea and there are so many others). I think it is important not to forget users are using a mobile which means small screens, smaller keyboards but are still in the need of information quickly without too much effort! Inflicting a bad experience on consumers who are nicely trying to connect with you on your mobile site might end up in you never seeing them again. 66% of consumers would be less likely to buy from a brand following a poor mobile experience (Tealeaf survey).

    In addition to locating where your users are and directing them to the most appropriate local site, it is also a good idea to offer a store locator.  Surveys show that it is amongst the most popular features of both mobile sites and apps. Sometimes consumers just go on your mobile site to look for an item or stock levels (Argos) but would rather buy it from the offline shop. Store locators are a great way to drive traffic in store and provide distance, store facilities, contact details, opening hours and directions. Argos and Tesco are 2 retailers that do this very well. 

    It would make sense to detect a user’s location by using smartphones’ GPS to present the nearest offline stores rather than having the users to type in their postcode (especially sometimes it might be tricky for them to know the postcode of the area). Only mobile sites developed in HTML5 and apps can offer that feature. Rightmove mobile site in HTML5 is a great example. 

    So as much as you can try to make the most of these location-based tools as they improve your consumers’ mobile experience and they also appeal to users who are shopping locally and looking for particular products and services. 

What are you waiting for?  Hopefully not for your competition to take the advantage! Get involved NOW.

Many retailers are waiting to launch their optimised mobile website until mobile commerce becomes more significant, but all the current stats show that the opportunity is now.  

The longer you wait to launch your mobile site, the more time you give your competitors to establish a successful mobile presence. Mobile commerce might be in its early stages but it is quickly gaining popularity as a way to shop.  I would use this as an opportunity to take the advantage, test what does and doesn’t work for you, create a "WOW" factor amongst your customers and give them something about you to share with others.  It can only raise your brand awareness and simply differentiate yourself from your competition.  

Do you need help? Codegent’s Mobile division might be able to give you a hand.

If you want to talk to us about your mobile commerce strategy, then please do get in touch.