think TRIBE: Blog
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Why online business can no longer afford to ignore mobile performance

09th May 2016

Mobile overtakes desktop for online sales

Online shopping in the UK reached a milestone recently with the news that online retail sales via mobile devices has tipped over the 50% mark for the first time.

In figures released by etail trade association IMRG (Interactive Media in Retail Group) in its recent benchmarking report, smartphones and tablets were the devices of choice for 51% of UK online retail sales in Q4 2015/2016 — up from 45% in the previous quarter and from 40% in the same quarter a year earlier. Sales aren’t the whole story, though, with consumers also reaching for their smartphones and tablets as first-choice browsing devices; an impressive 66% of traffic is now driven by mobile, compared with 53% in Q4 last year.

Responsive Web Design doesn’t mean performance is covered

At thinkTRIBE we’ve seen for ourselves how mobile usage is beginning to dominate ecommerce sales as well as searches. Our own evaluations of traffic on high-pressure occasions like Black Friday demonstrate that increasing numbers of consumers are using mobile as a primary interface for online shopping and many sites are struggling to meet that demand.

And as mobile becomes a more significant factor in the sales process, the pressure is on for retailers to ensure their web platform is performing for mobile use to ensure higher conversion rates.

While in theory, the increasing prevalence of Responsive Web Design (RWD) should mean that sites developed from this position will work on all browsers and devices, our coal-face experience is rather different – which is why mobile and desktop journeys each require monitoring. Although timing is the biggest problem that comes to mind when considering performance for mobile users, functionality issues can also be affected across devices and aren’t always easy to spot – something we’ve noticed extensively when monitoring mobile journeys for clients in the run up to big events.

Because the javascript libraries that make RWD ‘easier’ are quite complex, problems can arise when people start tweaking them for a new look and feel or functionality and can be further compounded when trying to optimise pages for speed – stripping content back to essentials, for instance which may result in an interrupt to RWD on specific pages only.

Fortune favours the brave

Naturally, realistic load testing should always be carried out well in advance of busy periods and should also reflect the increasing complexity and sophistication that ecommerce platforms are now trying to deliver. But it’s also crucial that mobile monitoring is made a firm business priority. In an alarmingly fast-paced environment, ecommerce websites that are sluggish, bloated or ill-suited to the more agile world of mobile browsing will find themselves losing traction as customers switch to sites that provide a better UX.

In our experience, this involves a willingness by retailers to commit to a long-term approach to mobile development, monitoring and maintenance with the aim of making mobile a point of difference, rather than a point of weakness.

Our Black Friday mcommerce report contains lots of valuable information including how top retailers fared over the period last year, what the most common performance issues were and top tips on managing optimum performance at peak times. Download it for free here.

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If you’re currently looking to merge your mobile and desktop sites into a single responsive site, we can offer advice using data from the monitoring journeys we’re already running as to what works best in terms of timings and errors. Get in touch to find out more about our consultancy packages.

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