Mobile Musings: Tips for Mobilizing Your Retail Business
Most retailers today know that mobile is everything. Consumers are increasingly researching products, reading customer reviews and making purchases via their smartphones and tablets rather than desktop computers and laptops. It's a trend that will only continue to increase.
As a result, mobile development strategy is now a critical part of a retailer's business plan. Recent studies find that 61 percent of consumers have a better opinion of retail brands that offer a compelling mobile experience, and 58 percent of smartphone owners use them for store-related shopping. Furthermore, those smartphone owners are 14 percent more likely to convert in-store.
Retailers of all sizes need to adapt to mobile users. A website designed solely for desktop and laptop viewing could have a detrimental effect for visitors when viewed on a smaller screen. Most businesses know this, but the trickier part comes in deciphering which mobile optimization option — after weighing the company's own capabilities, budgets and visitor profiles — will best suit its needs.
Let's consider two categories of mobile optimization, each with a pair of options varying on complexity, relative cost and performance.
Most websites designed for desktop viewing don't translate well to smartphones and tablets. The text is often excessive for a smaller screen and usually requires zooming. Links to other pages within a company site can be hard to locate or access by clicking. Forms, e-commerce funnels and other visitor calls to action are often difficult to complete. That said, retailers looking to bring their website experience to smaller screens have a couple options at their disposal:
- Responsive websites: These websites adapt content depending on the screen size of the device, making for a much clearer user experience. They tend to be easier and faster to develop because there's a single code base for all devices — the code just needs to be written once and applied. The downside of responsive design is that while the single code base makes developing the website easier, it's more difficult to optimize the website to specific devices (e.g., having one site geared for tablets and another for smartphones).
- Dedicated mobile websites: Dedicated mobile websites are optimized for each family of devices as separate architectures are created. Businesses that need greater specialization for each kind of device or businesses that know a high volume of traffic comes from a specific device type should consider creating a dedicated mobile website to ensure that visitors see exactly what was intended. While more time consuming to develop and potentially costly, dedicated mobile websites generally offer better user experiences than responsive design does.
Depending on the needs of visitors and customers, a mobile app could be a viable option, often (though not necessarily) in addition to mobile website optimization. As with website customization on mobile devices, retailers have two options for app development. Once again, the primary differences are determined by what devices expected visitors are using and what kind of user experience and performance is required for the business.
- Native apps: What dedicated mobile websites are to responsive design, native apps are to hybrid apps. Native apps are written specifically for each platform (iOS, Android, Windows, etc.), with each platform requiring a completely different code base. These restrictions on the varying code bases can lead to a slower release cycle and a steeper learning curve of the specific programming languages and peculiarities (if done in-house), in addition to the need to maintain several code bases. However, native apps generally present the best user experience because of the platform customization.
Most retailers will find that optimizing a mobile website, whether it's through a responsive or dedicated strategy, is the first step towards more effectively reaching smartphone and tablet visitors. Mobile websites offer the same benefits as a regular website on a desktop or laptop, but are built with a mobile audience in mind. Sites are instantly available, easy to share via links and relatively easy to upgrade. Apps are generally a company's secondary deployment, but they can be absolutely vital to an organization depending on its need.
Retailers should consider creating an app if they want to reach visitors with special features requiring use of a mobile device's camera or GPS, such as image or barcode scanning for price comparison or localized in-store coupons. Ultimately, the mobile strategy that best suits a business depends on its customers. Understanding your customers and how they interact with your website will dictate the mobile tactics that prove most beneficial.