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Online retailers adopt mobile-first approach as smartphone shopping grows

September 20, 2013

Mobile's importance grows for online retailers

Pure-play online retailers are overhauling their business strategies from site design to establishing a physical presence to address the significant growth in mobile shopping.

With 29 percent of Amazon’s traffic coming from mobile-only shoppers, the ecommerce giant cannot afford to overlook this important channel and makes sure to support these shoppers with browsing and app experiences that take advantage of the latest mobile features and functionalities. While many other pure-play online retailers have not been as proactive in mobile, savvy ones recognize they need to move quickly.

“Because pure-plays do not have the luxury of network of physical stores to help build their brand, their brand impressions are formed exclusively by the experience shoppers have on their e-commerce sites, and increasingly that experience is on a mobile device,” said Jason Goldberg vice president of the commerce practice at Razorfish. “So it’s critical that pure-play ecommerce sites offer a great customer experience to their mobile users.

“It’s only a matter of time before mobile browsers become the dominant shopping platforms for ecommerce sites, so we are going to continue to see a shift in budgets from desktop design focus to mobile,” he said.

“Mobile-first will become the dominant design strategy for e-commerce sites.”

Mobile shoppers
Recent data suggests that the browsers on smartphones and tablets are already one of the most important and fastest-growing user groups for pure-play ecommerce sites, per Mr. Goldberg.

The sales volume transacted with ecommerce sites from mobile devices is expected to grow from 15 percent this year to 24 percent by 2016, according to eMarketer.

Additionally, recent Nielsen research shows that two-thirds of smartphone users and four-fifths of tablet users shop from their devices while at home.

Sports Unlimited saw strong results after tweaking the mobile shopping experience

Finally, 48 percent of time spent in the retail category occurred on mobile devices, according to ComScore.

Better experiences
Until recently, many online retailers spent most of their resources on building a great customer experience for desktop users and only a small percentage on the mobile experience. Additionally, the mobile experience might be outsourced to a third party and executed as a separate site.

However, online retailers increasingly recognize the need for better mobile experiences.

“Today, retailers understand that there are not separate Internets for mobile and desktop users, and that many shoppers visit their site from multiple devices, so it’s no longer acceptable to have separate URLs for separate devices,” Mr. Goldberg said. “In fact, Google says that a site is the least preferred solution for delivering a mobile experience.

“So new pure plays that enter the market today, are offering mobile and desktop optimized experiences on the same URLs from the same native ecommerce platform,” he said.

The growth in mobile is also affecting the search strategies for ecommerce sites, which are seeing an increasingly large percentage of organic traffic coming local searches done from a mobile device. This puts these retailers at a disadvantage because do not have physical locations.

To address this problem, some online retailers are establishing a network of physical addresses through a delivery partner such as FedEx, per Mr. Goldberg.

Visual search
Another way that online retailers are addressing the growth in mobile is by leveraging the camera phone on mobile devices to allow shoppers to visually search.

Amazon, Rakuten, CamFind, and others now offer Visual Search as part of their ecommerce experience on mobile devices.

Best-in-class pure-play ecommerce sites are also looking for ways to minimize the amount of data a shopper needs to input on a mobile device to complete a purchase. Purchasing from a smartphone’s small screen can be frustrating and retailers want to eliminate this barrier as much as possible.

“That includes using cloud based wallets, such as PayPal, Google, and Amazon,  where consumers have already input their payment detailers; using social network credentials instead of making customers input a separate password; and using the smartphone camera to OCR credit card details,” Mr. Goldberg said.

Small changes
For online retailers that have not been aggressive in mobile so far, even making a few small changes can produce significant results.

For example, online pure-play Sports Unlimited recently enhanced its dedicated mobile site with a set of new features such as enabling shoppers to complete purchases using PayPal and saw a 36 percent revenue lift and a conversion rate increase of 42 percent, in the first 38 days after the relaunch.

“Mobile has such a big impact that, by tweaking features and offerings and layouts of existing mobile sites, online pure-plays can dramatically increase conversion rates and revenue,” said Wilson Kerr, vice president of business development and sales at Unbound Commerce, Boston.

Mr. Kerr recommends that retailers who have a dedicated mobile site begin experimenting with mobile-specific content and adding features geared towards mobile shoppers, such as “buy now” buttons on listings pages.

“The importance of a dedicated mobile site for pure-plays cannot be overstated, and mobile sites that are simply shrunken down versions of an ecommerce site generally do not allow for a customized experience, designed and deployed specifically for the mobile channel,” Mr. Kerr said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York 

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