One of the biggest problems for mobile Web shopping is that the steps to purchasing simply take too long -- far longer than on the familiar Web. And that's because of the way that mobile devices work. Just clicking a button to “add,” “delete,” or “change quantity” on the mobile Web requires sending transaction data from the shopper’s mobile device to the vendor’s server (average 3-5 seconds) via cell towers, not high-speed cables. These interim steps -- which take place long before checking out --are the challenges. It's all about time.
A study commissioned by Adobe in October 2010, titled “In-the-Know about On-the-Go: Adobe Captures What Mobile Users Want,” indicated that 67 percent of shoppers “strongly prefer using mobile websites over mobile apps for all shopping-related activities.” Was that just an isolated data point or the beginning of a trend? A more recent survey -- released in January 2012 by ZMags, titled "Meet the Connected Consumer" -- goes even further by showing that 87% of connected consumers now prefer to use Web sites and browser-based mobile sites for browsing and shopping, whereas only 4% prefer smartphone and tablet apps. ZMags even concludes that “retailers need to think about the purpose of these apps and determine the role of the app in the customer lifecycle.”
The reality is that consumers have a hard time keeping track of multiple apps, and would much rather keep more space for music and photos on their smartphones. Other studies released soon after last year’s shopping season indicate that over 40% of mobile buyers reported being unhappy with their shopping experience, and consumers still routinely abandon their online shopping carts up to 70% of the time.
What can the industry do to demonstrate that it is actually listening to its users?
The first wave of mobile commerce development has favored massive investment in apps for different platforms and different purposes such as special promotions, comparison shopping, and loyalty programs. As in any new product introduction, now is the time to evaluate customer feedback via real-life behavior, make changes accordingly and look at the bottom line. The “connected consumer” study shows that it makes sense to separate the wheat from the chaff and streamline the number of apps, so that a portion of development resources can be reassigned to improving site design for the mobile Web in favor of the customer’s experience.
A number of organizations perform regular tests on retailers’ site performance, so we know what the main candidates for improvement are. Here are a few key questions that Internet retailers, large and small, should ask themselves:
How good is your site’s response time?
This is most critical when the consumer comes in on a smartphone. (One key issue is how many images you have per page and whether their definition is compatible with the 2G or even 3G speed most phones still provide.)
How complex is your navigation?
How many clicks does it take to get to the desired product? Have you looked at how long it takes, on average, for transaction data to be sent/confirmed between a mobile device and your server?
How many page changes or re-loads are required for a customer to “add to cart”?
Must they be forced to see a “view cart” page every time?
How is the “shopping flow” on your site?
Psychology researchers have demonstrated that not interrupting the actions of a particular consumer may provide a much higher percentage of completed transactions.
Have you investigated alternative solutions to reducing the time it takes to use your cart?
Research shows that despite the availability of time-saving options, such as AJAX, less than 5% of the top 500 retailers actually use it.
What if you could just place a checkmark next to the item you wish to purchase with no page reload required and not one change to the page you are looking at except a message that pops up: “item added." What if you could navigate around your site with no interruption at all, focused only on your intentions, undistracted?
Will HTML5 solve all problems?
Not quite. The most likely advantage from HTML5 will come in the form of quicker display of information of interest. But the design of a commercial site that favors the user experience will still be an issue for the reasons mentioned above.
In conclusion, retailers need to look closely at how they allocate their 2012 budgets, reduce the amount spent on apps and increase development resources dedicated to improving their mobile sites.