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Are you ready for mobile commerce?

March 1, 2010

If you’re anything like the typical ecommerce merchants I talk to, you’re probably obsessed with site statistics. Within the space of a few years Google Analytics has turned rational thinking retailers into stats-aholics.

I recently spent a day with a merchant who could tell me everything about his customers: where they lived, the browser and ISP they use and most importantly the paths customers take through the site. However, the one fact he couldn’t tell me was how many people visited his site from an Apple iPhone. Come to think of it he wasn’t sure if iPhone users could even use his site.

Mobile commerce is hot business and (stats junkies in the room please note) the data backs it up. Yahoo reports that there are 48 million total mobile users in the UK and that leaves out all of the people with more than one device.

During 2009, IMRG reported that one per cent of all UK ecommerce sales were conducted via a mobile. The US reports similarly small numbers with three to five per cent being the consensus level. However in the more forward-thinking markets of Asia, the front-runner Japan scores 30-40 per cent of all transactions via a mobile device. Impressive stuff.

Is your website mobile-friendly?

So, how do you get your site mobile-ready? Well the really good news is that in some ways it probably already is. Apple led the touch phone revolution with large glossy devices with plenty of screen estate. Suddenly it has become possible for RIAs (Rich Internet Applications) to be displayed in their full glory.

According to Apple’s 2009 fourth quarter results, 7.4 million iPhones were sold in a three-month period. That’s a massive 34.3 million units since launch, and that’s just one device! Looking at the road map for all the major devices, they all are planning a similar path — from the excellent Google Nexus One to the Blackberry Storm 2 and Nokia 900 series. Screen estate is in, cramped browsing conditions are out.

That’s not quite the end of the story. Small screen, low-tech devices are not going away. In fact only 14.1 per cent of the 48 million mobile devices reported by Yahoo are classed as smart phones. However the expectations that you can do everything from your mobile are going up, so this is an opportunity for retailers, not a problem.

Do your research

Making your site mobile-ready is no different to any other web project; it’s all about the demographics. Questions you need to be asking include:

    Who are you trying to reach?
    Where and how are they visiting your website?
    What does the typical visitor do at your site?

These may sound like simple points but they are crucial if your mobile site is to be a success.

Answering the “who” is fairly easy — with one in five of us now regularly using mobile devices to surf the web there is a very good chance your customers are already looking at your site via their phones. A great first step is to analyse this data, look for trends and make that the basis of making the mobile experience better. Thankfully getting your hands on this important data is fairly easy. Most mobile web browsers now have the ability to run java script meaning Google Analytics can track mobile usage.

Worst case scenario

Discovering the “where and how” is a little harder. People use mobile devices in so many different ways and in so many different places; the long-standing mantra has always been to make your site usable under the worst conditions possible. Now this may not sound particularly appealing but your mobile site needs to work on both fast WiFi and the slower GPRS signal. It’s the same with screen estate and input devices: cater for both large touch screens as well as smaller devices that may require a stylus or keyboard.

This is a problem. Creating stand-alone sites for different browsing conditions could be costly and frustrating. The internet is littered with lots of advice on how to tackle this, but there is little consensus. While it’s technically possible to detect the conditions people are browsing in and redirect them to specific sites, my advice is to go back to the research, pick a battle and win it. Choose the device or screen resolution that’s most popular and make sure your site is optimised for that experience.

Understanding how your customers will use your mobile site is also critical. Are they using their mobiles to purchase goods, check prices or simply looking for store information such as an address?

A tale of two sites

As an example let’s look at two very different mobile experiences, Amazon and eBay. Amazon knows the vast majority of customers come to its site to browse then purchase, and the decision-making process often isn’t made until the user is on the site. This is reflected in the design and layout where immediate, uncluttered access is given to products and product categories. There is clever use of recommended goods based on previous purchases and clear calls to action. The whole experience is about browsing quickly and efficiently and then making it easy to purchase.

eBay is a little different. Unlike the typical Amazon user, eBay customers generally come to the site already knowing what they are looking for. This is reflected in the site design as its search features are central to the user experience. There is very little product on display until you have at least entered some core information, but the whole process is very sleek.

Both Amazon and eBay have done their research into their user base and the results are impeccable. Interestingly, both are reporting mobile commerce as their biggest growing market.

Mcommerce is on the rise and to understand who, what and how, you need to do your research. Think like your customers. Put together an action plan. What are you waiting for?

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