Mobile commerce: Nine ways to improve your customer experience

28th Aug 2014

More and more brands are taking mobile commerce by storm, offering both mobile applications and mobile-optimised sites to their customers. But as mobile shopping sites and apps increase in popularity, customer expectations are rising drastically with it, so brands need to be doing more to keep pace.

Research by IBM has highlighted the extent to which customers are intolerant of any faults, with 16% of respondents reporting that they would be more likely to buy from a competitor if they encountered a problem, and 13% admitting they would abandon the transaction altogether and try a competitor’s website or app instead.

“Some of the bigger leading brands have really upped their game, and the ones that are keeping pace have strategically invested in a platform that is able to service both traditional online channels and also the newer mobile and social channels,” says James Lovell, European retail Smarter Commerce solutions lead at IBM. “But when you start to move away from the leading retailers and into the tier-twos, you find there are more businesses struggling to keep pace, because they haven’t necessarily made that strategic investment. So while the leading retailers are keeping up with the customer, the tier-twos and below are struggling.”

Michael Allen, VP of APM at Compuware, adds: “Brands must prioritise their mobile commerce offerings based on their customer demands. For example, they should look to identify which mobile devices their customers are using the most and then optimise their mobile offerings for those devices. They should also bear in mind that whilst flashy visuals may attract customers by making a great first impression, building a long lasting customer relationship actually depends on the quality of the experience through how that website performs.”

So how can businesses ensure they get the mobile customer experience right? Here are some tips from leading experts.

Research your customers' needs

“To truly cater to their mobile customers and provide a flawless user experience, businesses must understand the context in which their customers are using mobile and use this to better the services they already offer,” says Bill Loller, vice president of IBM Smarter Commerce.

“For example, are they using their mobile devices to buy products, or research products for later purchase online or in store? If they do use mobile predominantly to research products and buy in store, are they doing their research while in-store, or from elsewhere?”

Jess Iandiorio, VP of product marketing at Acquia, adds: “Brands needs to go directly to the source - consumers who haven’t yet engaged with the brand, and customers that have yet to turn into brand advocates. Take these two personas and research alongside them with regard to their preferences, use cases, and overall desire to interact in a variety of ways with the brand on all devices. The biggest focus here should be on cross-device usage patterns - what devices do they use to research vs purchase? Understanding cross-device connections will help brands know what targeted promotions should be delivered via web vs smartphone vs tablet.”

Take mobile data seriously

“As customers’ expectations of mobile commerce mature, businesses are beginning to understand that the customer experience is no longer just about the number of sales, site clicks or social media mentions. Instead, they need to know what prompts customers to behave the way they do – what different types of customer behaviour exist, how issues impact their behaviour and how this can help ebusinesses improve the overall online customer experience,” notes Loller.

“The key to delivering the best possible customer experience is really understanding your customers: how they behave, how they interact with you as a brand, and how they use the various channels as well,” says Lovell. “We’re starting to see a shift whereby retailers are taking customer data more seriously, because from that they can derive a lot of insight. If you understand that your customer set uses smartphones for transactional purposes, and they may use tablets for browsing and they may use the web for much more inspirational content, then you can tailor the channels to the relevant customer sets as well. And that can certainly help retailers address how to serve customer experience through what channels and when.”

Knowing what makes customers tick can be tricky, and according to IBM research, just under half of businesses (48%) say they have a good understanding of the types of content that make people more likely to buy, the reasons for making a purchase (43%), and the value of visitors from different sources of traffic (48%).

“This information is incredibly valuable in understanding why customers buy, what their individual interests are and the value of a customer clicking onto the mobile site from a Google search compared to a customer clicking onto the page from a social networking site,” emphasises Loller. “But it’s also vital that businesses are aware of the reasons behind abandoned transactions, which can provide important insight into how they can reduce customer struggle.”

Listen to your customers and respond

“By identifying the main struggles customers face, businesses can work at resolving these issues, ensuring their mobile apps and mobile-optimised sites are easy to navigate and have sufficient information to keep customers feeling at ease and secure right through to the end of the checkout process,” says Loller. “Failing to take action when struggles are identified could lead to lost sales and customers, as a result of minor mobile commerce problems that could have been easily fixed.”

He continues: “Knowing what makes customers tick can be tricky, but thanks to the internet and social media, customers have lots of ways of telling you, and everyone else, what they are and are not happy with.  If they have a bad experience, they are more likely to vent their frustrations on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, which can be hugely detrimental to their brand name. In the digital age, reducing the customer struggle has never been more vital.

“Approaches such as online surveys, app store reviews, social media listening tools, usability heat maps and digital customer experience replay are all effective in understanding in near real-time exactly how your customers feel and what they think about the customer experience you provide. Businesses must be open to learning and adapting their mobile customer experience based on customers’ views.”

Make the user interface user-friendly

Mobile consumers are task-oriented – unlike online or in-store consumers, they are much less likely to spend time browsing for products and services and are more likely to log on to sites with a purpose to buy. As such, businesses need to ensure they provide an easy, quick and consistent mobile user experience to ensure their customers remain loyal.

“The most serious issues faced by consumers visiting ecommerce sites via mobile devices are screen-sizing issues as well as bad navigation and poor ‘findability’ issues,” suggests Loller. “Organisations need to ensure they are addressing all their customers’ struggles to ensure they are providing the best possible mobile experience.

“The user interface is by far one of the biggest things that will impact a customer’s mobile shopping experience – it’s the first thing they see when they enter the site. Many businesses make common mistakes such as not accounting for size/width of an average customer’s finger, making mobile users fill out long forms, not accounting for various device widths, or making pages non-zoomable.”

Personalise the experience

“Until now, personalisation has usually involved using a combination of known profile information and historical data. What’s been missing is the ability to combine these factors with real-time information such as in–the-moment browsing data, the device a customer is using, their specific location and their stage in the purchase cycle,” suggests Tom Waterfall, director of optimisation solutions at Webtrends.

“Bringing all of these factors together is defined as contextual personalisation. It allows brands to deliver targeted and relevant experiences to a customer based on their specific needs at that exact moment in time – giving the customer what they want, when they want it and where they want it. Mobile offers a unique opportunity to target customers with personalised messages on-the-go when they’re browsing in-store or in nearby stores.

“Contextual personalisation is also the catalyst for more exciting innovations that allow you to bring together the online world with the ‘real’ offline world. Imagine if you knew what your customers wanted before they even entered your store – everything from their shopping habits, likes, dislikes and previous purchases – and could then use this information to drive their in-store experience. This is what contextual personalisation, combined with new technologies such as Apple’s iBeacon, enables – it uses consumers’ known online behaviour data to drive offline sales.

“With digital interactions between shoppers and retailers influencing 50% of all in-store sales, it’s essential to make the most of digital and start to close the offline and online loop. Mobile is at the very heart of these exciting new developments.”

Keep it quick and simple

“What drove consumers from the High Street was the speed with which they could search for products online. Mobile offers consumers the next level of convenience which a number of retailers are not yet offering,” suggests Alan Gabbay, CEO of Udozi.

“Be it up to-date-stock information, directions to the nearest store, telephone numbers or opening times, consumers are used to having instant access to this information on their phones. Mobile is also the best platform on which to offer the discoverability of online shopping mixed with the instant purchasing convenience of the High Street. Consumers don’t want to wait four working days for their product.”

“For an optimised experience on a mobile phone, brands must make it as easy as possible for the user to achieve what they are trying to do,” recommends Oliver Durand, director of solution management at Intershop. “Focus on capturing the user's interest by addressing his emotions - large lifestyle images for example work much better than a long list of product pictures. Concentrate on the essentials - once you have the user's attention he is more likely to click through to the more detailed product information. And, keep it simple - your user is on the road and has no time to scroll up, down, or perform complex product searches.”

Streamline the purchasing process

“The checkout process needs to be seamless and uncomplicated and research shows that if this process becomes problematic the user is quite happy to leave the site having not made their intended purchase,” warns Alison Curry-Taylor, operations director at Daily Internet.

“Universal instant mobile checkout apps can assist in this most important final interaction to ensure that consumers get one-tap checkout on their phones. With this seamless approach completing the overall customer experience there is a much more increased realisation of sales conversion and maximum profitability for the business.”

“Once a mobile customer has decided to buy, it is important to make the purchasing process as easy as possible with a one-step checkout process,” says Durand.  “Mobile payment options that use a digital wallet such as PayPal are ideal as they minimise the amount of data the user has to enter: His credit card details and address information are already safely held on his device or in the Cloud.”

Simon Horton, founder of ShopIntegrator, adds: “Streamlining the data capture needed from the customer to complete an order is important in offering mobile customers a better experience. By offering customer account creation, with stored re-usable delivery addresses and payment details it can significantly speed up the mobile checkout process for repeat customers.”

Ensure mobile is consistent with other channels

“Consistency across all channels is vital,” emphasises Loller. “There is nothing more annoying for customers than when they switch from a website to a mobile app or site and cannot quickly and easily navigate through it, or lose the items they ‘saved’ when switching between channels. It is vital that the user interface across these channels are similar to not only give customers a much more consistent experience, but to also enable them to easily familiarise themselves with the business’ brand and sites.

“Integration across channels to provide customers with a single, top-quality customer experience is vital. In addition, businesses should remove the clutter, advertisements, and any other irrelevant information for mobile apps. Consider the most important things consumers need to do or find through your mobile experience and provide enough information for them to complete those tasks on the go.

“Mcommerce is seen as a quicker, easier and more convenient alternative to other shopping channels, and mobile customers are not tolerant of anything less than that. Getting the mobile customer experience right can open up a number of doors for businesses across their other channels.”

Test to optimise the experience

“In such a heterogeneous device environment and for brands to deliver the best possible mobile commerce customer experience, it is important that they budget for an implement real device monitoring and testing,” recommends Thomas Gronbach, digital quality expert at Keynote. “This will take the business through the real user journey and help them truly understand how their website is being perceived and where the pain points are on each device, network and operating system. 

“Testing can be done in a variety of ways; emulated testing is done by an automated machine running scripts, making it fast and easily comparable, whereas real user testing can simulate the actual visitor journey, giving its results more credibility but making it a slower process. To create a good mobile experience, which can be delivered quickly to market, it is important that both these techniques are used to get an accurate picture of how a mobile website is delivered to consumers and to assure the connected experience. 

“As well as regular testing of the site, website owners should also continually monitor performance to ensure the site loads quickly – the web standard speed, of a page load time in less than three seconds, is already in effect on mobile – and the site’s availability stays above 99 percent. This will ensure that any issues are flagged to the website team, before they have an impact on the end user.

“For brands to truly understand changing customer expectations of the mobile experience, they must look at how their service is really being consumed by mobile users. By monitoring and testing a site, brands can gain insight into what works and, more importantly, what doesn’t work. They can start to build a robust mobile strategy that truly offers an optimal end-user experience, helping to improve customer satisfaction and retention. By putting themselves in their customers' shoes, and considering different shopping habits from different devices, brands can ensure that they serve site visitors well and keep them coming back again and again.”

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