2014 has just begun and predictably most discussions are around mobile. Here are some recent headlines...
Mobile technology continues its path towards world domination
Mobile sales accounted for 17% of all online holiday sales in 2013.
Mobile sales of apparel grew 55% over last year and home goods sales grew 38%
Mobile Computing Replaces Home Computing As The “Go-to” Platform For Users
US Mobile commerce sales will account for 26% of web sales by 2017
... and many more like this. I get it, and agree with the overall premise. But personally, I am not shopping end-to-end on the mobile. While I use my phone to search products, read reviews, compare products/price, I found myself going back to good old laptop to complete purchases. Unless I was buying stuff through the amazon or other apps. That's different..
So why was I going back to laptop to complete my transaction?? Some 55% of users, like me bypass mobile commerce web sites in favor of full desktop sites when shopping on their mobile devices (according to internet retailer / RSR Mobile consumer research). This is such as sub-optimized shopping experience.
Most e-tailer sites don't get their mobile customer buying experience right because they are not clear about what they really want from their mobile channel, and how to build mobile sites and apps for that purpose. Is it brand awareness, customer engagement, or do they want it to be channel for user to actually make the purchase and complete the sale end-to-end? Not sure..Most e-tailer apps and sites are like catalogs, with standard offers and promotions. They are designed after websites, are more clunky to navigate, and assume customers behave on mobile just like on desktops with too many point and taps. Bottomline, one cannot build mobile sites and apps without a clear purpose, and hope for a different outcome.
From a customer standpoint, there are two types of mobile shopping experiences. One through a e-tailer/brand mobile app, and the other is through mobile browsers. Customers approach the two experiences in very different contexts, situations and with different expectations.
Mobile apps are personal - customers don't randomly download apps and clutter their phone. The e-tailer has to be trusted by the customer, favored for the products they sell, and provide a positive experience to get real estate on a customer's mobile phone/tablet. This is the primary reason for the low # of e-tailer app downloads. More importantly, customers expect the app to be multi-functional and personalized. When a customer opens up an app, they have an idea about what they want to do with it at that time. It is important that mobile apps are designed to do exactly what customers want to do. That means knowing where the customer is (in a store, in a mall, at work, at home etc.), quickly establish primary intent (browse, buy, customer service, share/engage community) and help accomplish that in the simplest and shortest number of steps (e.g., provide the most relevant deals, best pricing, pre-populated shipping and payment options etc.).
The other super useful way to leverage mobile apps is to transform interactive in-store and omni-channel experience - this is a huge opportunity area in the near future. Apps are all about the customer, and not the e-tailer or their products.
The mobile browser experience on the other hand is different and fragmented across multiple value chain players (it is just not the etailer), Most customers start with search and for most people, Google is the default product search platform. The search based customer experience is typically with an intent to buy, or know more about a specifc product/category. So mobile search and browser experience has to be well optimized for the buying process. That includes SEO to deliver the right product, image and video results, an mobile optimized product page - with the most important product info, views, pricing, reviews and ratings and enable the customer navigate easily and complete the purchase in the shortest possible steps.
For example, a one finger swipe is easier for the user than a tap (on a narrow piece of screen). A tap requires a more effort on the part of the user and is processed as a logical end-point, and should be kept for decision making events on the screen (like submit order etc.). Browsing of product images should all be swipes and customizations (color, size etc.) should be done in-page, if not pre-loaded based on known customer preferences.
To validate my hypothesis in the real world, I went to googled on my phone for 'Leather Jackets'. Except for Amazon and one other search result that was mixed, all other sites (Nordstrom, Macys etc.) returned results for women's jackets (maybe most commonly searched for?). When I tapped on each of the results, some links sent me to generic jackets catergory pages, while others showed me a listing of leather jackets. Most had unoptimized low quality images that were not enticing. When I selected a product page, I was hit with a lot of cross-sell and up sell images along with product info and pricing. Next I had to navigate through 2-3 more pages filling in shipping, billing info etc. before I submitted the order. This is a lot of work to do on a small screen be it a phone, tablet or phablet - seriously!
It would be so much more helpful if the product page helped me make my purchase decision easier by providing high quality images that evoked a sense of touch and feel, unbiased reviews from other customers, similar products that others bought, best price with competitor comparison info (if applicable), product availability for me to get it at the earliest. Imagine if my shipping and credit card info is securely stored on my phone (or pay with paypal/visa/amazon) and were sent to the e-tailer (I don't need to open an account or sign up) and processed all within a single step. It is important to make the user decision making process easier and not more complicated and cumbersome.
I am pretty confident the above approach would make the mobile commerce process 30%-40% more efficient, simpler and more satisfying for customers. The first step however is to acknowledge that customers use mobile devices in different contexts, situations and with different expectations. E-tailers need to design a seamless shopping experience all the way from search to payment processing working closely with search engines, store front ends, pricing engine, personalization analytics and payment processers.
This ain't easy. But that's what great user focused, innovative companies do to disrupt the marketplace. Mobile is big and is the future, and companies that approach it from a user standpoint will be the winners.