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How to mobile-optimize retail sites for on-the-go shoppers

January 8, 2010

Walgreens' WAP site

Walgreens' WAP site

Retailers that fail to optimize their mobile Web site risk leaving a growing customer segment behind. Here are some best practices for mobile-optimizing the shopping experience for customers.

Mobile Commerce Daily’s Giselle Tsirulnik interviewed Matt Poepsel, vice president of performance strategies at Gomez, Lexington, MA. Mr. Poepsel talked about the importance of mobile-optimizing a retail Web site and some of the challenges of doing so.

Here is what he had to say:

Can you provide a list of best practices for optimizing the mobile Web performance of a site?
The following best practices can help retailers maximize mobile Web performance and investments in mobile initiatives, including mobile Web sites, applications and SMS services:

1. Bring all stakeholders into the Quality of Experience process – All individuals with a stake in customers’ mobile Web experiences should have a clear understanding of existing performance levels versus expected performance.

This can foster better productivity and communication among cross-functional teams such as IT and ebusiness/mbusiness. 

2. Share common experience management technologies, metrics and best practices across your mobile Web and PC Web initiatives – By applying tools and established best practices from the PC Web to the mobile Web, retailers can achieve a more unified approach to both Web and mobile performance management.

As a result, businesses can fuel greater efficiencies and cost savings and leverage existing expertise.

3. Establish a baseline for historical analysis and benchmark yourself against the competition –You need to track how well you are satisfying customers’ high expectations of the mobile Web, and compare your performance to that of your peers. 

4. Test and monitor from your customers’ perspectives – Any effort to optimize mobile Web performance must begin with a true understanding of how your customers are accessing your mobile content and from where. 

Monitor how their experiences vary in different geographies, and with different ISPs, carriers, content delivery networks, browsers and devices.

5. Test across the entire Web application delivery chain – Like the PC Web, mobile Web sites and applications have grown increasingly complex over the past several years, incorporating numerous third-party services (for example, mobile advertising providers and mobile analytics) from beyond the firewall.

Poor performance anywhere in this chain can degrade performance of an entire mobile Web application, and this will reflect poorly on you. 

For this reason, retailers need to drill-down to understand the performance of all the individual touch-points making up the whole of their customers’ mobile Web experiences, and validate third-party service-level agreements.

6. Test and monitor at a frequency to ensure you can resolve issues before customers are impacted  Retailers should test their mobile Web sites and applications not only before deployment, but also afterwards (and frequently) in order to pinpoint and resolve issues quickly – before they impact customers – and drive continuous optimizations. 

What can retailers do to optimize Web performance for mobile shoppers?
Businesses can leverage the same performance management tools they’ve leveraged for the PC Web, and fortunately, these solutions are available in a SaaS model, which makes them accessible, affordable and easy-to-use. 

Armed with the insight these tools provide, retailers can proactively identify specific user segments that may be experiencing slower mobile response times or poorer availability rates, and implement strategies to improve them.

Can you think of a retail mobile site that really nailed it?
While companies that have traditionally performed the best in the mobile Web continued to do so during the holiday season (QVC, Overstock and Amazon, for example), recent mobile performance data shows that many retailers still have a ways to go to ensure their customers’ mobile Web experiences can come near to or match those of the traditional fixed Web. 

For example, the leading retailers’ fixed Web sites delivered an average response time of 2.18 seconds this holiday season – proof that retailers are investing heavily in making sure their Web sites perform, even under the heaviest traffic loads. 

In contrast, the average response time of retailers’ mobile Web sites exceeded 3.6 seconds – which is a problem, considering Forrester Consulting’s recent finding that two seconds is the new threshold customers are willing to wait before growing frustrated, abandoning a site and going to a competitor. 

Also consider the fact that mobile Web sites are often significantly less feature-rich than PC Web sites – which, it would stand to reason, should make them faster.

What are the challenges of mobile Web optimization? 
The sheer volume of usage scenarios requiring performance testing (for example, an Android user on T-Mobile in Seattle; a BlackBerry user on Verizon in Chicago) presents a particularly daunting challenge.

Retailers need to know what performance is like for different applications, from different browsers, devices and networks, and different geographies. This represents a potentially huge drain on resources and time-to-market for revenue generating applications and services. 

How can these challenges be addressed? 
Today, comprehensive testing networks include thousands of device profiles and can offer retailers a quick and easy view into mobile customer experiences. 

Armed with this knowledge, retailers can understand which mobile customer segments may be experiencing a performance issue; and then proactively identify, isolate and fix a wide range of performance-impacting variables.

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Giselle Tsirulnik is senior editor at Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach her at

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4 Responses to “How to mobile-optimize retail sites for on-the-go shoppers”

  1. David Eads Says:

    Performance is an important consideration. However, organizations must focus on making sure they provide their applications in the right format (web, app, sms) for the particular task. The usability of the task in the medium is critical. Most importantly, the applications should be solid and should work.

    8% of all mobile commerce transactions failed this holiday season according to research by Compete.

    David Eads
    Founder, Mobile Strategy Partners

  2. Troy Gibson Says:

    I believe from a technical perspective this article was 100% on target, and I completely understand the focus on the performance aspects of the mobile experience. However when addressing the topic of mobile optimization especially from a retailer perspective, the retailer cannot just repurpose the product catalog. The retailer must keep in mind the need state of the consumer and provide an experience that address the need state of that consumer. This may require new information architecture and bubbling up access to features and tools that may traditionally buried within a desktop experience. Consumers don’t search and explore on mobile websites like they do on desktops. They want quick access to the pertinent information they need. The goal should be no more than 3 clicks to get the consumer the information they need.

    Brick and Mortar retailers must also embrace the fact the mobile consumer could be standing in the store; therefore, the mobile experience has to provide an experience that supports the online and offline channel.

    I just want to make sure that your readers understand that optimized means more than just making a product catalog render on the mobile phone.

  3. Sharon Lin Says:

    Hi this is Sharon Lin, Director of Marketing at Motally. One of the ways that companies can understand their mobile website usage is by using a mobile analytics service. Motally’s patent-pending technology addresses some of the key challenges of getting accurate data on users, particularly those originating from Blackberry and Opera-mini platforms. We also provide users with advanced reporting features including funnel analysis, internal search tracking and meta data tagging. Some of our customers include Yelp, Twitter and Verve Wireless. Motally recently won the Under the Radar competition for developer tools. Feel free to check out our website when you have a chance.

  4. Scott Forshay Says:

    Excellent interview, Giselle. However, I have to disagree with Mr. Poepsel on strategy point #2. PC web and mobile web is not a 1/1 relationship. There are concepts in mobile that don’t exist online, i.e. location. There is no concept of location online unless a user enters a zip code, thus limiting a wealth of location-based services specific to the mobile experience. Given the utilitarian nature of the mobile shopper, adding additional steps in the process is potentially detrimental to the experience and retailers run the risk of turning off mobile consumers. Simply “transcoding” your web site for a mobile experience is limited in scope. The nuances and, hence differentiated opportunity, represented in mobile web far exceed that of online.

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