Mobile Optimised Shopping, moving beyond the App?
According to ITPro 10 million people in the UK are now accessing the internet via their mobile, spending around 6.4 hours a week browsing the web in a typical week. The younger generation and early adopters are driving this increase and the trend looks set to continue with improving internet coverage, speeds and services. The emergence of the newer Smarter Mobile including the Google Nexus One and Apple’s iPhone along with fast, affordable data, indicate that mobile is no longer considered a niche medium.
While smartphone ownership was once just a business tool, more consumers than ever are using smartphones in their everyday lives due to both convenience and accessibility. Research from Ipso MediaCT indicates that 88% of iPhone owners are actively accessing the mobile web and their browsing habits are now almost level with fixed internet usage. As the internet is now being consumed across various devices and the number of consumers browsing the web via their phones is increasing, it is becoming vitally important to ensure site designs are optimised to connect with consumers more effectively and increase ROI.
Are UK Retailers responding to this increasing trend?
The Econsultancy reported in April that although many US retailers have mobile commerce sites or apps, the UK has been much slower to move into mobile. Although a number of UK retailers now have apps, Amazon and Ebay are the two big names that now offer mobile optimised sites. There are however a lot of big names yet to move into mobile commerce. Other established mobile optimised sites include Interflora who launched a mobile site last year, which includes a limited range of flowers and gifts. Comet also has a mobile website, although it isn’t transactional, instead users can browse through the product range and reserve items for in-store collection. Marks and Spencer have recently become the first high street retailer to go properly mobile, thus representing a major step forwards in terms of mobile retailing. Some statistics from a recent BT Expedite multichannel retailing survey indicate that just 5% of UK retailers have m-commerce sites or apps, while 24% are planning to.
Opting for a Mobile Site or an App?
There is much debate over whether retailers should opt for a mobile site or an app or both. Many UK retailers including Oasis, Next and Warehouse have tended to opt for an app rather than a specific mobile site. These mobile apps offer a richer, faster customer experience than a mobile commerce website because many of the features and design elements are stored on the Smartphone and do not have to be regularly downloaded from services. An app can also integrate with smartphone features such as an address book or GPS navigation to enhance functionality.
Mobile sites alternatively have the advantage of achieving a greater reach by working across a range of handsets and to those people who may be searching for products on their mobiles. One of the main barriers to shoppers making purchases on their mobiles is the checkout process. There is a significant difference in conversion rates between apps with optimised checkouts and those without. The process of simply linking to the main checkout process from an app is not good enough and retailers doing this are not likely to drive significant sales via mobile.
Both Amazon and Ebay have both a mobile site and app which have been optimised for mobiles. In terms of differences between the two, the Amazon app has the added bonus of a new experimental ‘Amazon Remembers’ experimental feature. This allows visitors to use the camera on their iPhone to crease a visual list of things they want to remember whilst out and about. The photos taken from the app are stored on both the Amazon Mobile app and the Amazon.co.uk website. If the item consumers want to remember is a product, Amazon Remembers will try to find a product similar to your photo for sale on the web, which is useful to make an offline comparison. Alternatively the Ebay app is very much similar to the mobile site, yet provides just another way for consumers to access their services.
In a recent report by Morgan Stanley, more and more users are predicted to connect to the internet via mobile devices rather than desktop PCs within in the next five years. Mobile apps provide just one way of engaging consumers with a brand using mobile technology. This therefore raises a number of concerns for retailers in terms of formulating a comprehensive mobile strategy in order to reach a larger audience. Some of the key features of current mobile optimised sites have been reviewed in more detail below:
The Amazon mobile site is very much a streamlined version of the main site. Key areas of strength include that all key information is displayed above the typical page fold on the homepage, a shopping basket call-to-action and a search box. Best sellers and recommendations are also provided and product pages are kept simple. In terms of flaws however it has been identified that the search doesn’t currently recognise misspells.
Similar to the Amazon site, a category drop down list and top 5 searches are presented on the homepage. The Ebay mobile site also provides options for visitors to refine searches and find related items. However similar to Amazon misspells are not recognised in terms of the search function. In addition although visitors can select categories to search within, visitors are requested to enter a keyword into the search before any product listings are provided. Only then can visitors start to filter down search results.
Marks and Spencer
From comparing all three mobile sites, for me the Marks and Spencer mobile site is the most appealing in terms of overall design and navigation. A simple list of product categories are provided to search through and although the product pages tend to be quite long to scroll through, they do provide plenty of information including whether items are in stock or not. Although the navigation is simple it can take up to five clicks to locate an item of interest if the search function is not used. This does attempt to provide users with a more accurate experience, yet it does take a while longer to reach this point. In addition consumers have to register in the checkout process, thus placing somewhat of a barrier in terms of encouraging mobile purchases, due to the amount of information which has to be entered on a mobile keyboard.Tweet