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Is The Future Bright For Mobile Commerce?

mCommerce in Europe outpaced that of the US by the end of 2010 although retailers report that mobile browsers today generate a little less than 3 percent of overall site traffic and just 2 percent of revenue.

Currently only one in five retailers has a fully implemented mobile strategy in place.

  • Gartner predict in 3 years time more people will access web from mobile than PC
  • Already in the UK, mobile devices are used for more Google searches: than the entire searches done on Bing.
  • Back in September 2009 0.02% of traffic to websites in the UK was from mobile devices, by January 2011 8.08% of traffic was from mobile devices. If this trend continues by June 2011 mobile devices will account for 14.75% of traffic.
  • On ebay alone consumers globally bought and sold over US$2billion worth of merchandise in 2010. This is up from $600 million in 2009 and according to Steve Yankovich, vice president mobile at eBay, this $2 billion in gross merchandise volume is derived 78% via its numerous mobile apps and 22 % via mobile web.
  • Amazon took US$1billion globally from mobile sales last year, and Google alone made US$1bn in annual mobile ad revenues.
  • Mobile retail will exceed US$12 billion by 2014 (mobile retail is defined as m-coupon redemption values, smart poster fees and advertising expenditure). M-coupons will dominate mobile retail marketing spend until 2013 according to Juniper Research.
  • It is predicted that more than 1 in 10 mobile subscribers will use m-ticketing in 2014. Services are developing fastest in the transport sector, particularly rail and metro companies and airlines, but m-ticketing is also used in concerts and movies.
  • Airlines increasingly offer not only mobile boarding passes, but ticket booking and payment as well. But lack of standards has led to multiple ticket scheme environments which could impede growth.

We know that different thinking is needed by companies, when planning and launching new mobile websites, or mobile apps to that of the fixed web, so the question is: where to start?

User Centred Design

The first issue is User Centred Design. Small screen real estate forces a good discipline of being focused on ‘what do the users want to do’.

The marketing myth of “infinite space” has made it too easy to add more and more content to sites on the fixed web, to include more and more marketing messages, to duplicate elements, blindly copy inappropriate functions from other sites or bolt on components without thinking about the impact on overall user experience or site architecture. The end result can be rather cluttered, the messages diluted and often confusing to users, and the site ineffective in terms of business strategy.

On the mobile screen, the thinking process is clearer – you start with a blank page and add only what is needed to facilitate ‘what do the users want to do’. What’s more, mobile users have different requirements from desktop Web users and provide different opportunities for your business.

Use of Mobile Apps is highly goal driven. The majority are not used for browsing behaviour, at least not yet. For users, a useful Mobile App is one that has a single purpose and is simple and quick to use: often they are used when the user needs a quick answer.

A second contrast between mobile and desktop visitors is the need for speed in content delivery. Although page and journey delivery speed is important to a desktop user, it is much more vital to a mobile one who is often using the device at specific location and wanting instant access.

This is a challenge to the eCommerce site as the quality of mobile network the user connects through is much more variable than for desktop access and, when poor, causes slower delivery times. There’s nothing the eCommerce site can do to prevent that – but the focus is therefore all the sharper on needing to be able to deliver content really fast from the servers, to create the best retail mobile website.

Much more attention needs to be paid to speed. The common approach to use the same website backend systems, to support the mobile webpages or webApp traffic may not be adequate speed-wise. Maybe your main website can deliver images etc fast enough to satisfy desktop users: but it may not be fast enough delivering the smaller, bite-sized components that are needed for a mobile user who has less patience. Your main webservers may simply not have been coded to give maximum speed to smaller content: in contrast to full-screen browsers where the server challenge t is more about the speed of the bigger elements.

Just because people can view your PC Website with a mobile device with an HTML browser, doesn’t mean it is a pleasant or fulfilling experience. However big the device screen, viewing a PC Website requires scrolling left and right and up and down and however good the mobile connection, large images will be slow to load, and sites that use particular tools, such as flash, will not work on some handsets.

Strategic Considerations

Coupled with the fact that there are currently more than 60 different types/versions of mobile browser in use on mobile handsets globally, this makes mobile Web design more complicated than desktop Web design and a “one size fits all” approach is not going to produce the required results.

You may need to bite the bullet, meet up with your tech team, and discuss in detail how you can set up a framework to measure the user experience so that you can stay on top of it into the future.

Firstly, find a tool or supplier  that can emulate and monitor the site or app from a user perspective 24/7.

Ensure that all monitoring and reporting you plan is based on the money-making ‘do what the users do’ routes through the site so that the business, marketing and technical teams can all speak the same common language of user experience. When this happens everyone can understand the impact of errors, failures and occasional slow-downs and their immediate visibility to the tech team means they can effectively correct them.

Secondly, business, marketing and technical teams also need to discuss the practicalities of moving the speed-critical mobile pieces onto a fresh web infrastructure. What are the costs, ROI, strategic implications and timescales for doing that? Do you need to be sure of performance when the big marketing promotion for the new app occurs and there’s a spike of users on Day One, or do you agree just to plan for the new infrastructure, but not actually buy or implement it until the user satisfaction begins to decline due to slow mobile user journey performance?

By that time it may be too late. The brand damage may have been done, and the bad experience shared around the increasingly connected world. It’s harder to persuade people to come back and try and try again with a promise of improvement than it is to delight them with their first experience.

Thirdly, as mentioned above, a major challenge to m-Commerce is the current lack of platform standards.

Big eCommerce sites have the resources to design their app 3 or 4 times over, to support the different mobile platforms. For smaller ecommerce companies: the budgets may not allow that. It’s a hard call – which platforms do we support and which not.

Gartner predicts that in 2012, over 85 percent of handsets shipped globally will include some form of browser. In mature markets, such as Western Europe and Japan, approximately 60 percent of handsets shipped will be smartphones with sophisticated browsing capabilities. In those mature markets, the mobile Web, along with associated Web adaptation tools, will be a leading technology for business to consumer (B2C) mobile applications through 2012, and should be part of every organization’s B2C technology portfolio.