Commentary

The Mobile-To-Desktop Synergy: Not Snacking But Tasting

As recently as a few years ago, it was standard practice to ask of businesses and media whether they really needed a mobile strategy. As with all things mobile then, we presumed that the device size and digital speed put natural limits on what kinds of function and consumption patterns people wanted to move there from the desktop. The audience continues to surprise us with the depth and breadth of activity that many users are ready to port to devices. And even if these consumers are not ready to convert while at a brand’s mobile site, it is becoming apparent that the marketers need to be mobile-friendly nevertheless.

As I speak with more companies about the kinds of behaviors they are seeing among mobile customers, the interdependence and synergy between desktop and mobile Web become more apparent.

This is especially true for businesses one would not necessarily associate with a need to be mobile. Small businesses, such as modest gift boutiques and specialty food vendors, for instance, are finding that people are using the mobile look-up reflex on them as well. End-to-end e-commerce platform for SMBs Dydacomp surveyed an advisory board of small business owners, small catalog merchants and mail-order firms to discover how mobile users were encountering these niche sellers. Among a select group of advisors in the space, CEO Fred Lizza tells me, they are seeing anywhere from 10% to 25% of visitors coming from mobile devices.”

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What is most interesting here is that even these small companies -- many of which are one and two-person shops -- have up to a quarter of their customers seeking them out on mobile.

The 2000 companies Lizza handles are pumping out $200 million in sales a month online. Most of these companies are selling something that ships in a box, with an average order size of $105 to $110. Many of them started life as small mail-order or catalog companies that evolved into e-commerce years ago. Many are owner-operated, so every expansion is costing them money that comes out of their own pockets.

“Now we are starting to see the second phase of that transition,” says Lizza. “M-commerce is coming into play.” Dydacomp has been publishing an “SMB Index” to track patterns among this level of business, and the segment is poised to invest in mobile. “Over 20% of customers now have mobile storefronts,” he says of his customer base.

The definition of “mobile storefront” is a bit hazy, however. Some are just getting table traffic to their standard Web site, and many are mobile insofar as they use a template iOS or Android app for the site content. Nevertheless, for many the traffic is already coming and the intentions are rapidly growing to mobilize. Lizza says that two-thirds of SMBs surveyed were interested in using mobile platforms -- double the rate of a year ago.

But like so much of m-commerce, the reality is a bit more complicated than simply getting people accustomed to using a buy button on a smartphone. There are, in fact, “very, very few transactions” taking place on mobile for these small mail order businesses. “There is a lot of browsing and visiting, but the buying is still being done in the [desktop] browser,” Lizza says.

Mobile effectiveness varies widely according to product category. But items that are music related and in some sporting goods appear to be leading the way. Merchants for more considered buys like specialty foods and gifts are lagging.

Even if m-commerce is not going to be a big driver for direct marketers like these mail-order companies, it is clear that they need to be mobile regardless. In ways that are still unclear, people are using mobile in a range of unexpected ways. We need to explore how people are using devices for quick look-ups of brands and products as they occur to the user and then push the link over to themselves for more considered perusal on the Web.

We often cite mobile as a platform for “snackable” encounters, where people want small and edible helpings of media. But one of the early phenomena discovered by early mobile content sites was that emailing an article to oneself from the phone was among the most popular function on a mobile site. People used their phone to triage information and get a taste of what they might want to consume whole later.

It may be closer to the truth to say that people use mobile to taste rather than snack. For m-commerce, too, mobile allows a consumer to respond immediately to some trigger or inspiration to look up a brand -- only the beginning of a process that may be completed elsewhere. 

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