Online and mobile commerce still have a long way to go to provide a trouble-free customer experience but, as Stephen Armstrong discovers, there are ways of getting it right
Imagine a queue of one hundred people in a local convenience store, lining up at the checkout, Sebastian Siemiatkowski from mobile payments platform Klarna suggests. Then imagine that 97 of them just put down their baskets and walk out. “The store manager would go crazy,” he exclaims.
“But in mobile payments, we have to say, ‘Well, it’s just the way it is.’ Of 100 people who click buy, only three finalise their purchase. Online commerce is in the Middle Ages and mobile commerce is in the Stone Age when it comes to monetisation.”
This, to put it mildly, is a waste. According to the Centre for Retail Research, online retail sales made via mobiles in the UK will rise by 62 per cent in 2014 to a total of £7.92 billion, equivalent to 17.6 per cent of UK online retail sales. Sales using tablets will grow by 100 per cent to £3.1 billion and smartphone retailing is expected to grow by 44.3 per cent to £4.82 billion.
Clearly the future isn’t just multichannel, it’s omnichannel and, with the average UK smartphone owner touching the screen of their device 215 times a day, the big question is why are 50 per cent of the top 100 UK brands not optimised for mobile?
“Take Addison Lee – hardly a new concept, running a mini cab company,” says Nigel Clarkson, commercial director of Weve, a joint venture between EE, O2 and Vodafone. “Now they’re mobile-first: order via app, get texts with your driver’s number plate and so on. Mobile is one tech area where the consumer is ready for anything brands can imagine. With Google now promoting mobile optimised sites in the search rankings, its losing you money if you’re not mobile optimised.”
Forrester Research analyst Thomas Husson says: “Two billion smartphones generate raw data from accelerometers, cameras and GPS chipsets opening up the opportunity to anticipate customer needs à la Google Now, predicting future behaviours of consumers via powerful algorithms bridging offline and online behaviours.”
The data crunching Mr Husson describes is predictive analytics, which allows companies to model customers’ behaviour in their local supermarket, compare it in real-time with data on what millions of similar ethnic, cultural, gender and wealth-based shoppers have done in a similar or the same store, and comes up with their most likely next move. You can meet a customer’s need before they quite thought of it. Which is great in theory. In practice, it’s not going well.
The eureka moment was visiting customers in their homes and seeing they used their mobile phones all the time
Christian Holst, research director at e-commerce study centre the Baymard Institute, spent the better part of a year conducting a large-scale usability review focusing specifically on m-commerce. He studied the entire mobile shopping experience on the 18 largest mobile commerce sites, including Amazon, Gap and H&M, looking at everything from users’ conceptual understanding of m-commerce websites and how they interact with form fields to category navigation, search, product pages and the checkout process.
“Our subjects encountered more than 1,000 usability issues,” he says. “And these were issues with quite low-level problems.” Mr Holst identified five key mistakes – lack of page overview, poor use of optimised keyboards, a disconnect between users’ understanding of site functions and actual functions, issues with search and badly designed home pages.
Lack of page overview meant users got lost as a page scrolls down and forgot where they were or which address they were filling in for example, shipping or billing. While optimised keyboards means the mobile device offers, for instance, numerical keyboards when users need to enter their phone number or credit card details.
“The industry talks about ‘fat fingers’ as if it was the user’s problem,” Mr Holst says. “But fingers have been working perfectly well for quite some time before phones came along – optimised keyboards reduce fat-finger syndrome by some 500 per cent.”
Users often struggled to understand accordion-style page contractions, where pages “crumple up” or concertina and unfold as sections are filled in. Mr Holst found users pressing the back button, which took them to the previous page, thus losing all the data they had input.
Poor search engines on m-commerce sites meant that the ease users expected from the likes of Google weren’t delivered when searching within a site for phrases such as “red running shoe soft heel”.
As for home pages, users often found the limited number of items offered at the top of a page meant they assumed the site “wasn’t for them”.
M-COMMERCE IS DIFFICULT
“In many ways, designing and optimising an m-commerce website is much more difficult and often requires more intelligent website features than a traditional desktop e-commerce website,” Mr Holst concludes. “It comes as no surprise that IBM reports average m-commerce conversion rates roughly half of its desktop e-commerce conversion rates.”
For successful UK m-commerce retailers, the picture isn’t as gloomy. Jonathan Wall, e-commerce director at Shop Direct, which owns Littlewoods and very.co.uk, steered the company mobile-first four years ago.
“The eureka moment was visiting our customers in their homes as a research project and seeing they used their mobile phones all the time, while finding getting up to get the laptop time consuming and irritating,” he explains.
Thanks to the company’s account structure, Mr Wall can track customers across both mobile and desktop – a problem for some retailers as Apple still blocks third-party cookies in iOS 8 – and insists shopping is about the journey, not the device. He sees customers browse on mobile and then buy on desktop.
Shop Direct’s in-house user-experience lab tested and rejected continuous scrolling after it lost them revenue. On very.co.uk, the pages are simple and friendly with search prominently in the centre of the screen, and banners switching between offers just above. The menu bar remains in place at the top of the screen as pages move and scroll. Categories are presented on wide buttons with various viewing options.
“We think that any barrier to the consumer – anything that makes it harder for them to finish a purchase – slows m-commerce down,” says Mr Wall. “We always talk about petrol stations – ideally that’s how m-commerce should be. You can go into BP, Shell or Tesco, get a completely different offer, completely different brand, but at that key moment, the petrol pumps all work in the same, simple common-sense way.”