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Prepare for the sea change in retailing this holiday season

July 22, 2013

Blake Callens is lead engineer at SpotTrot

Blake Callens is lead engineer at SpotTrot

By Blake Callens

Two hundred and sixty-five million mobile devices were sold in the first quarter of this year, a 54 percent year-over-year increase, according to IDC Worldwide.,

More than one in every two U.S. consumers now owns a smartphone, per Pew Research Center, and four out of five of them use it for shopping, claims comScore.

Thirty-nine percent of last year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday shoppers learned of deals through email marketing, per Bizrate Insights, and 41 percent of those emails were opened on mobile devices, Knotice said.

Keeping score
Nearly one in every six Black Friday ecommerce transactions was completed on a mobile device last year – a 63 percent year-over-year growth – and the iPad alone accounted for almost 10 percent of that day’s traffic, according to the IBM Black Friday Report 2012.

Despite this, less than one in three ecommerce sites are optimized for mobile, and 82 percent of sites are not even tracking mobile purchases, per TransFirst and ControlScan.

Not optimizing for mobile is the most common and largest oversight in ecommerce today, with 88 percent of smartphone shoppers reporting unpleasant experiences. Thirty percent of those shoppers vow to never return to a frustrating store and one-third defect to a competitor, according to a Skava Consumer Mobile Shopping Survey.

Three’s the charm
It could not be more obvious that every online retailer’s main priority for the holiday season should be mobile optimization.

With the average mobile conversion rate of an un-optimized store well under 1 percent, as reported by Smart Insights, and mobile accounting for 24 percent of all Black Friday traffic last year, per IBM, come this winter, quite a large sum of money is on the table.

Just choosing to serve up a mobile commerce site is not enough, though.

Once a retailer determines to implement a solution, three variables affect a mobile store’s ultimate success:

1. How are the brands and products represented on the small screen?
Building a mobile site used to be about size and button based navigation.

Small screen experiences were centered around category lists that could be navigated, without too much trouble, from physical keyboards.

When the iPhone was introduced, the predominant mobile design became a slightly more graphical version of the category list, since the new phone could take advantage of advancements in Web page styling.

Six years later, HTML5 capabilities have been ubiquitously incorporated into all smartphone platforms, allowing the development of Web applications that mimic the design and functionality their native counterparts.

Today’s best mobile shopping experiences ditch long category lists for a much more visual, touchscreen-friendly approach. They focus on the products, rather than the departments, and do a much better job of matching the branding of the desktop site.

2. Do you serve a mobile interface to tablets, or the desktop site?
One of the major disadvantages of category-laden mobile sites is they do not translate well to larger-screen mobile devices.

The single column button layout stretches to the width of the screen and leaves a sizeable amount of wasted space. This, combined with the misconception that screen size alone should determine interface type, leads many retailers to deliver their desktop sites to tablets.

The touch-based interactions that tablets and smartphones have in common means the optimal interface for both is based on the same type of elements.

The best mobile commerce designs account for larger mobile screens by resizing and repositioning touch based elements to fit the display.

3. What does the ideal mobile user experience look like?
In one word, easy.

In the best mobile shopping experiences, the user is never left in a position where she is unsure of the path to purchasing. Calls to action are sized for fingers and colored to draw the focus of the eyes. Forms take advantage of the full variety of on-screen inputs such as email, phone and date.

A modern-looking, friendly design goes a long way as well.

The more a site’s look-and-feel mimics the native applications that users associate with a “walled garden” experience, the more comfortable they will be sharing payment information.

THE SMARTEST retailers do not start their Web site design with departments, products or promotions, but with the customer.

This holiday season will solidify the sea change in online shopping that has been shifting to mobile over the last few years. It could be a make-or-break moment for many, with the best-prepared retailers potentially coming out with twice the conversions of the competition.

Blake Callens is lead engineer for mobile commerce platform SpotTrot, Raleigh, NC. Reach him at

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