The mobile shopping experience needs an overhaul

The mobile shopping experience needs an overhaul

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By Scott Voigt, co-founder/CEO, FullStory

Every year, as data from any e-commerce expert or analyst shows, more and more people use their mobile devices to buy things. It's simple and convenient, and a logical extension of the way we use our smartphones. Mobile devices have crept into every corner of our lives.  

Our shopping habits are following suit. In the second quarter of 2010, just 1.8 percent of all U.S. retail e-commerce dollars were spent via mobile device. By Q1 2017, it was 22.3 percent.  

It's a positive mobile picture.

But it begs a larger question. Why isn't mobile e-commerce even bigger right now and there's a tough answer: The experience still isn't where it should be.

When mobile shopping really started gaining traction six or so years ago, retailers turned their sights on, and put their resources into, native apps. They were the golden ticket, many believed, to potentially making mobile sales outperform even desktops one day.

But things didn't turn out quite as expected. Consumers aren't jumping on the app bandwagon for mobile shopping. Fifty three percent of shoppers worldwide say they prefer using a retailer's mobile website over an app. Sixty percent of consumers who use a smartphone to shop online have fewer than two retailer-specific apps on their phone, and 21 percent don't have any at all.

Consumers today are much pickier about the apps they download in the first place — the majority download zero new apps each month — and use regularly. Nine of every 10 minutes people spend on mobile apps are with their top five favorites.

Retail leaders with the biggest reach are virtually the only ones attracting big app downloads and consistent usage. Amazon and Walmart take the top two spots in app popularity among retailers, not surprisingly. Those are the only retailers whose revenue from their apps equals or surpasses that from their mobile websites. The ubiquity and loyalty those brands enjoy on people's devices put up a wall that's increasingly impenetrable to the smaller brands trying to capture a piece of the app pie.

Consumers, it seems, are tapped out on retail apps.

That puts those smaller retailers at a crossroads. They may have already assigned significant resources to app R&D, assuming that was the default mobile solution. They put another chunk into their desktop web experiences.

And here's the problem: The mobile experience is too often an afterthought; a shoehorned version of the desktop experience. Poorly designed mobile web experiences are losing customers. It's a big reason mobile sales aren't even higher, and why individual retailers — particularly small-to-mid-size ones — don't see more business coming from mobile. In fact, just 60 percent of the top 100 global retailers currently have a dedicated mobile website.

To be fair, it's very difficult to present a great mobile experience. The sheer number of screen resolutions that have to be considered can be a stumbling block. But retailers today need to go back to the drawing board if they want mobile to succeed as much as it can for their business. They need to start by considering the way they allocate resources.

First, they need to examine the pie chart of where their customers come from: the percent from desktop, app, or mobile web. Then look at the time spent on developing each of these. Does the pie chart align? It probably doesn't.

Next, they should look at frustration signals in each of those channels. How many support tickets are generated in each? Where are people abandoning shopping carts? The frustration triggered by each is another indication of where a retailer needs to invest.

Many will see those signals loud and clear from their mobile web users. Mobile conversion is seventy percent lower than desktop.

Yet consumers' activities on their mobile devices consistently drive them to mobile sites, and that number will undoubtedly rise. Seven in 10 consumers who research products on mobile devices use search engines, which bring them to mobile websites. More people open emails on phones or tablets than desktops, so retailers' promotional emails naturally deliver visitors to those sites, too.

This traffic represents lost sales when motivated shoppers want to purchase, but mobile checkout doesn't work right or something else about the experience is bad. And that customer may be gone for good. She won't give an app or desktop experience a chance, no matter how much more the retailer invested there to make that experience extraordinary.

Now, it's certainly true that the role that mobile plays in retail doesn't begin and end with buying things. Plenty of people use their devices to research and compare prices, and then head to their laptop or desktop, or even to a brick-and-mortar store, to actually make a purchase. That may be the biggest utility mobile adds to people's shopping experiences, at least in the near term.

But that only reinforces the fact that the mobile web experience needs to be treated with the care that retailers give desktop. Retailers need to understand why customers are on their mobile sites, and pinpoint the obstacles they face there to getting what they want out of the visit.

A shopper won't head to a retailer's site when sitting at her desk at work, or take the time to visit a real-world store, if she gave up in frustration trying to deal with it on her phone. A poor web experience impinges on brand loyalty across all channels.

So the bottom line is retailers need to prioritize mobile. They just shouldn't equate "mobile" with "app" when allocating resources, even if that's the legacy at their companies. It's time for retailers to give their mobile sites the thought, care and resources their customers — and their bottom lines — deserve.

Topics: POS, Retail, Trends / Statistics

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