For an increasing number of consumers, if you don’t have a fast, easy-to-use mobile website or app, you don’t exist.
Think about that for a minute.
That big, slick, content-rich e-commerce site you’ve spent so much time, money and effort building, maintaining and promoting might as well be invisible to the ever-growing ranks of untethered consumers. Such sites are now harder to find from mobile devices, thanks to changes to Google’s search algorithm aimed at making mobile search results more relevant.
And even if mobile shoppers do manage to land on a desktop-centric site, they won’t be hanging around long — let alone buying anything — if their visit isn’t optimized for their screens and streamlined for slower mobile network speeds. The worldwide explosion of increasingly powerful smartphones has been going on for years, but the time has come for merchants to take a “mobile first” approach to virtually everything they do.
Mobile is still far from dominant when it comes to e-commerce revenue. Despite two-thirds of online shopping taking place on smartphones and tablets, just 11 percent of online purchases are consummated on mobile devices. However, that figure is growing fast, and forward-looking merchants would be wise to make mobile their default touchpoint. Here are some tips to help merchants make the crucial shift to a more mobile mind-set:
1. Become a mobile shopper. Fully a third of 18-to-34-year-olds are now using mobile devices exclusively for their online shopping, according to comScore. If you’re going to tap into the mobile mind-set of your customers, you should spend a little time interacting with your brand the way they do.
Start by actually trying to buy something from your site on a mobile device. Use different smartphones and tablets — iOS and Android — and see what you discover. What you find may surprise you. Then do the same thing with your emails. You may be sending promotional emails to customers assuming they’ll open them on the wide monitors of their desktops, but in fact they’re opening them on their mobile devices. See for yourself what that experience is like and then ask yourself how you can improve it.
2. Segment relentlessly. Once you see what it’s like to view your brand via a mobile device, get some data on how many of your potential customers are viewing you that way. Powerful analytics programs can segment virtually any data set by device, providing important insights about how different types of shoppers are experiencing your brand. They can even give granular-level data about the specs of the mobile devices being used, which can help you pinpoint issues by device and even mobile carrier. Do the same segmentation for social data, slicing and dicing which shoppers are engaging with your site through which social media platforms, and adjust campaigns accordingly.
3. Go responsive. Many merchants reacting to the fast-evolving mobile landscape have developed separate mobile sites, only to find themselves forced to build and maintain — at considerable cost — numerous versions to cater to the disparate screen sizes, computing speeds and performance capabilities of different smartphones and tablets.
Responsive commerce, also known as responsive design, offers an elegant solution to this problem. It uses a single base of code that automatically and dynamically adjusts the layout and content to fit the screen size and functionality of whatever device a shopper is using. The approach offers merchants a streamlined process for updates and maintenance as well as easy adaptability to new devices, such as smartwatches and shoppable TV.
Return on investment is always a concern with such a major undertaking, which is more expensive than a typical site redesign. By using templates that can easily be adapted and optimized for existing devices as well as those around the corner, responsive design effectively saves merchants money by “futureproofing” sites.
4. Check your mobile friendliness. For those brands that don’t plan on going responsive immediately, in the interim there are ways to ensure their websites are as optimized as possible for mobile users. Begin by testing your site with Google’s convenient testing tool, called the Mobile-Friendly Test. It can diagnose any URL in about a minute, assessing in simple language whether the site meets Google’s mobile usability expectations or has some work to do.
5. Opportunity beckons. It wasn’t that long ago that the sight of shoppers consulting their smartphones in a brick-and-mortar store only meant one thing — they were looking for better deals online.
Such “showrooming” undoubtedly takes place and is an understandable concern. However, taking a mobile-first approach allows merchants to turn this disruptive trend into an opportunity to deepen your relationships with customers.
Beacons are a perfect example. Instead of worrying that customers are reaching out to competitors right in your own store, beacons turn that dynamic on its head by enabling you to reach out directly to customers’ phones as soon as they enter the store.
For the uninitiated, beacons are transmitters that use Bluetooth connections to identify when the mobile device of a user who has signed up for the service enters the store. The indoor network allows the merchant to transmit messages or promotions directly to the mobile device. Once viewed as futuristic, beacons are quickly gaining traction as retailers like Macy’s roll out the service and social networks like Facebook test the technology as a way to feed users' information about local shops and other landmarks as part of its “Place Tips” service.
As promising as beacons may seem, there has been some pushback from consumers with privacy concerns over being “tracked” in stores. Merchants should be sensitive to such concerns while striving to find similar ways to interact with in-store shoppers via their mobile devices. Ideas include offering in-store redemption of mobile coupons, encouraging shoppers to check in using mobile apps, or learn more about products and promotions using QR codes.
The evidence of a massive shift in consumer habits toward interacting with brands via mobile devices has been building for a long time. Different industries may reach the tipping point faster than others, with some like the travel and fashion industry arguably already there. While the rates of investment in mobile-friendly initiatives will differ, all merchants can benefit from embracing a mobile-first philosophy for every aspect of their online strategy.
Related story: Commerce Everywhere: Your Customer is Always On