Seven steps to optimising your site for mobile commerce

14th Aug 2014

The time of being able to coast along without factoring mobile shoppers into your online strategy has long since passed. According to research by McPowered, 30% of mobile shoppers will abandon a transaction now if the experience is not optimised for mobile. And statistics from Compuware indicate that mobile web users now expect websites to load as quickly or faster on their mobile phone as the computer they use at home.

And with leading-edge retailers driving massive improvements in the mobile retail experience, mcommerce expectations will only rise. If you aren’t mobile-optimised yet, then the time to move is now – or else your business will suffer.

“According to recent Google research, 32% of UK consumers make a purchase via a smartphone each month - higher than in any of the other 18 European countries surveyed. With UK smartphone and tablet penetration already having reached 68% and 40% respectively, the need for organisations to have a mobile-ready site is clear,” says Matt Brocklehurst, product marketing manager at Google.

“The reality is that consumer expectations for mobile browsing experiences have risen. They no longer accept pinching and zooming to view content. Instead websites need to ‘just work’ on mobile, or businesses risk losing out to their competition.”

Thomas Gronbach, digital quality expert at Keynote, adds: “It’s still early days in the mobile commerce game, but since it’s expected to grow ten-fold by 2015, brands must adapt their websites now for small screen purchasing, if they are to have any hopes of being recognised as a mobile-brand which delivers a smooth checkout process, good overall performance and, therefore, increased sales. 

“Brands will need to examine how their fixed internet services will translate in the mobile world and consider what is most important for users on the move. Simply trying to replicate a fixed internet presence in the mobile world will ultimately end in failure, resulting in poor user experience and low customer satisfaction. To be successful within the mobile space, brands need to create a unique mobile experience. It may be challenging, but it’s not impossible to create a mobile commerce site that is quick and delivers the content and functionality that customers want.”

There are a number of ways that businesses can make their websites work across devices, and several important factors that organisations must bear in mind. Here are some guidelines to help when optimising your online presence for mobile.

1. Responsive or adaptive design, or mobile website?

There are different options available to businesses that are looking to make their websites mobile commerce ready, and organisations need to decide whether it is sufficient to adapt the existing website so that it can be viewed on any mobile device, or whether there should be entirely separate builds for mobile and desktop, necessitating that a dedicated mobile website should be designed from scratch.

Michael Allen, VP of application management solutions at Compuware, says: “The best advice for those looking to optimise their site for mobile is to not simply see it as an add-on feature. A mobile commerce site should be designed from the ground up with mobile in mind.

“Many brands make the mistake of trying to deliver a ‘full website’ to mobile device users, rather than designing a mobile optimised version. Unfortunately, the constraints of a mobile device - such as its screen-size, battery life and the reliability of 3G/4G and even Wi-Fi networks - mean that this often fails to deliver a quality experience for the user. It is essential to that website content has been optimised for small screens if it is to create a positive buying experience for the end-user. 

“There are several proven mobile web performance optimisation (WPO) techniques that brands can adopt to ensure their mobile commerce site is fit for purpose. For example, mobile apps should use an app cache to speed things up and enable users to access its content even when offline. It can also help to use data URIs to make mobile sites load faster and more efficiently.”

Simon Horton, founder of ShopIntegrator, warns: “A mobile responsive design is a much better strategy than building a separate mobile version of the website, which often results in a cut-down version of the site's content that leaves consumers frustrated and wanting to use main website instead.”

Responsive web design is one approach to optimising sites for mobile commerce that is proving increasingly popular.

“Responsive web design helps provide an optimal viewing experience across a range of mobile devices, particularly tablets where the screen size and shape is similar to a laptop or desktop computer,” says Oliver Durand, director solution management at Intershop.

“However, users who try to access the same information from the much smaller screen of a mobile phone have very different needs that can really only be addressed with a dedicated mobile website. They don't want to have to scroll, resize or enlarge what they are looking at, click through several stages of a checkout process, or enter a lot of information from their small keypad. In addition, some elements of the standard website may not be suitable for the mobile experience - links to pdf documents or embedded videos, for example.

“Optimising the web shop with responsive web design is the obvious first step, to meet the needs of users who access the website from a range of different tablets. Whether a brand also needs to provide a dedicated mobile experience to mobile phone users depends very much on who the user groups are, what preferred devices they use, how they navigate and use the website and what they expect to do on the website. Understanding the needs of your users is key in getting the mobile experience right.”

Gareth Mackown, mobile leader for IBM Global Business Services UK & Ireland, agrees that the solution rests with the needs of the customers.

“There is a little bit of horses for courses - you have to look at your customer base and your prospective customer base and try and understand where you can improve investment because not everyone’s got deep pockets so that they can fully invest in everything,” he notes.  

2. Identify your customer wants and needs

By examining your prospective and current customer base, you can also identify other important customer desires as well. In particular, you can establish what content would be most appropriate.

“Website owners must be aware that creating a website offering isn’t simply about scaling a website so it appears correctly on a different device – this is just the first step,” says Gronbach. “The content and features also need to be relevant to the mobile user and take into consideration that they may use the site very differently to a visitor on a desktop.  For example, a mobile visitor is often on the move, and therefore less likely to be browsing a site and more likely to be looking for something specific. It is important to prioritise what is most likely to be of interest to the mobile user, to satisfy this demand.”

Brocklehurst adds: “A mobile customer accessing a retail website on the go is most likely looking for store locators, product search or the shopping basket. Contrastingly, when browsing a service provider they are most likely looking for information, contact details and maybe even a click-to-call button. Think about what is most important for your customers when they’re on the go, make it easy to access and then ensure it works flawlessly.”

Considering what context your users will be trying to access your website is one way of identifying content needs.

“Tablet users tend to use their devices much in the same way as laptop users, so they may be sitting on their sofa leisurely browsing your online store, comparing products and reading product descriptions and reviews,” suggests Gronbach. “Users who access the website from their smartphones are probably on the go, quickly checking product availability or prices on their way to or from work, and they have limited time to find the information they need. They may be acting on an impulse - say they have seen a product in the newspaper they are reading and want to look it up - so it's important to use this impulse to your advantage.”

3. Streamline the customer journey

“Mobile users often search for information they need or want in that instant, which makes mobile buying an impulse – if you want to deeply research products, compare prices, tests, video footage etc., you are more likely to use a bigger screen,” says Tim Jenkins, UK director of e-Spirit

“So brands should support a streamlined mobile customer journey with clear and short paths to the content/products: mobile users have to find what they are looking for very quickly and easily.” Jenkins suggests that businesses should:

  • Provide a good search on the mobile site and a really intuitive navigation and usability.
  • Brands could define which products in their portfolio appeal to mobile shoppers and feature these prominently on the mobile site.
  • Use behavioural targeting: recommend products based on the ones the customer visits – when you know the customer (after he logged in) provide targeted content based on his shopping history.

4. Tailor mobile content

With a clear idea of the way that customers use mobile devices, businesses can then tailor the content of their mobile sites to support the tasks that users want to conduct. The key, however, is to customise content, rather than cut it.

“By cutting content you risk giving mobile consumers a less valuable experience than one they’d see on their laptop or desktop. Mobile consumers should be able to see all the content on your site - just ensure it’s customised for easy browsing,” explains Brocklehurst.

“The way that customers shop on mobile devices can be very different, so it’s not necessary to include every piece of functionality that you’d find on a regular site on a mobile site,” says Gronbach. “Rather than merely scaling down a ‘heavy’ website to accommodate the smaller screen sizes and slower download speeds of mobile devices, brands must devise bespoke content that is optimised for a wide assortment of specific devices.”

These could include:

  • Optimise navigation – reduce any unnecessary clickthroughs.
  • Provide a full performance analysis for latencies.
  • Optimise mobile apps or websites on different devices.
  • Cut imagery to lower the weight of the website.

One way to reduce the size of sites, and therefore help improve availability and load speed on mobile or tablet devices, is to remove unnecessary features that are likely to cause performance issues.

Gronbach continues: “If we take a clothing brand, for example – on robust, fixed line internet, shoppers enjoy the ability to see multiple videos of garments being worn by models and will regularly click through the full range of images to see the product from every angle.  On a smartphone, it’s far more likely that high resolution images and video content will slow down site performance and could cause loading errors.  By streamlining sites and removing features that may negatively impact user experience depending on the device, brands start to ensure a quicker and more reliable site.”

5. Simplify the experience – and especially the checkout

The mobile website needs to be clearly created to suit the needs of a mobile customer. This might turn out to be a very different experience to the desktop site.

“Navigating around the site needs to be a much more simplified experience although it can be a mistake to unnecessarily oversimplify,” warns Alison Curry-Taylor, operations director at Daily Internet

“Make sure the first level of category options is directly on the home page so that users can start scanning the list immediately upon landing on the home page. Primarily the home page should be easily scannable. Calls to action should be clear while still allowing the user to browse for further purchases before finally checking out.

She continues: “It needs to be acknowledged that mobile is not a mini version of the web and therefore requires extra investment and education.  A common design mistake is to have too many visual elements. A confusing eye path can result in the loss of potential purchasers through confusion and frustration. Bear in mind that when users are not able to get an overview of the entire website by quickly scanning the home page, they will feel less confident with the website and often end up choosing the wrong path for their task and ultimately leaving the site. This is not advising against graphics, but do limit their size if they are above the fold on the home page, and design them to have a clear eye path.”

In particular, as the most pivotal aspect of the mobile site, the checkout process should be as simple as possible.

“By making your checkout as easy and short as possible you’ll avoid missing out on a conversion at the crucial point in the path to purchase,” suggests Brocklehurst. “Include default inputs to save time and prevent errors. Little things such as auto-switching to a number typepad when a phone number is required can make a big difference.”

Curry-Taylor adds: “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. 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.”

6. Check how your website looks on different devices

Because of the variety of different mobile devices that customers could be using, businesses need to test their sites on multiple devices. It is of the utmost importance to ensure that the shopping cart and checkout are multi-device compatible.

“Businesses must ensure that mobile-optimised sites can adapt to the devices on which they are being accessed,” warns Allen. “Many brands were slow off the mark in accounting for this in the early days of mobile commerce. For example, iPad users were frequently met with a message informing them that their PC browser was out of date and instructing them to download a newer version, as the sites failed to adapt to their device. We also know that slow, high latency mobile networks can make delivering quality mobile web experiences difficult, and so it is also essential that mobile sites have been optimised for the networks that their customers are using to connect to the web.”

7. Conduct regular testing

“Performance is perhaps the most important factor in delivering a strong mobile user experience, and as such, it should be the foremost consideration at every stage of the design process,” says Allen. “With today’s increasingly globalised economy, mobile websites and apps also need to perform from anywhere, at any time. As such, having insight into how well it’s running in different areas of the world, and how it will perform during peak hours when it comes under the most pressure, is essential.

“This means that brands need to conduct regular testing on their mobile sites and apps to see how they are performing within the different regions where their customers are. They should also conduct load tests ahead of any peak sales periods to ensure that mobile commerce offerings are able to withstand the intensified pressure and don’t leave their customers disappointed.”

Curry-Taylor adds: “With smartphone adoption and technological development accelerating rapidly, any mobile website should be constantly reviewed and measured to ensure it is keeping up with changing patterns of behaviour and tech advances. Real success is dependent on this being a viable and flexible long term strategy.”

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