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Three models for a mobile presence

November 29, 2010

Matt Poepsel is vice president of performance strategies at Gomez

Matt Poepsel is vice president of performance strategies at Gomez

By Matthew Poepsel

Retailers considering mobile commerce must determine how they can provide the best possible experiences for customers who access their Web site content from mobile devices. 

Going mobile is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, however.

Retailers can choose from the following three general approaches:
• Allow customers to interact with your traditional PC site using mobile devices
• Deliver a mobile-optimized site
• Offer native mobile applications

Here is an overview of the potential benefits, drawbacks and best practices for each approach:

Option 1: Deliver your existing Web site “as-is” to mobile users
This is a viable option for retailers – mostly small to midsized companies – with simple Web designs that do not contain a large number of photos or rich media. 

This is also the most cost-effective and the simplest from a code maintenance standpoint. But there are risks with this approach.

First, your existing Web site may not render or fit properly on many mobile device screens, making your site content inaccessible to many mobile customers.

You also forego the opportunity to engage your customers through specialized mobile capabilities such as geolocation.

Still, there are techniques that can help you optimize your existing Web site for delivery to mobile visitors and devices. 

For example, keep the number of Web server connections to a minimum.

While full desktop browsers can handle a large number of parallel connections to Web servers with relative efficiency, mobile browsers seem to benefit from sites that create fewer connections. 

On the mobile Web, use as few hosts as possible to keep the number of connections down. 

Also, streamline text files and images, because every byte counts on the mobile Web.

Reduce the size of text files by eliminating whitespace and developer comments and reduce the file sizes of images.

Smaller device profiles, in particular, often cannot handle the excess information that is contained in bloated images.

Option 2: Deliver a mobile-optimized site
Unless your Web site is incredibly simple, you may be better off developing a mobile-optimized version of your Web site which is designed specifically for viewing on a small screen. 

This approach is fairly cost-effective as the development skill sets and techniques are similar to what you are doing today. 

Even so, there are some additional development and code maintenance requirements.

But the potential benefits – the ability to connect with customers through specialized mobile capabilities and increased confidence that mobile users can more easily see and access site content – are often worth the investment. 

Fortunately, there are opportunities to streamline the extra costs and work that accompany a mobile-specific site. 

For example, you turn to vendor services that mobile-enable your Web site by creating a front-end filter and ensuring selective delivery of site content based on the data volumes and content types that various devices can support.

A recent consumer survey concluded that mobile site speed still trumps feature-richness when it comes to determining the overall quality of the user experience. 

One rule of thumb for mobile-optimized sites is to keep it clean by reducing unnecessary heavy content based on the knowledge of what your customers want and expect when they are on the go. 

If your existing full-browser Web site features 50 or more sections and features, your mobile customers may only use 10 of these.

Option 3: Offer mobile users native mobile applications
Mobile applications offer retailers a critical opportunity to connect with customers at or near the point of sale by pushing coupons and sales as customers peruse actual store aisles or by leveraging capabilities such as geolocation. 

Today’s mobile applications are also highly innovative and can enable the ultimate in customer convenience.

Consider the Amazon mobile application.

This handy application allows users to snap a picture of a physical product from their smartphone. The application then searches the Amazon database to try and find the product on its virtual shelves.

However, mobile applications are not without their challenges.

Applications can be expensive to develop because you often need to create multiple versions of the application to accommodate various mobile platforms. 

Also, you cannot assume that customers will use your application at all. Many will not be willing to devote the time needed to go to their respective app store and download it.

Mobile applications also increase the stakes for delivering strong performance such as speed and availability, since slow or unreliable applications could mean losing fleeting sales opportunities or creating of a window of opportunity for your competitors whose applications are reaching customers faster. 

Finally, because many mobile applications have a rich front-end and a data-intensive back-end, they are very dependent on a well-functioning mobile Internet. 

One poorly performing ISP in a critical customer geography can spell trouble from a performance and user experience perspective.

To circumvent these potential drawbacks, you should first make sure that the customer experience from the get-go – during the download processes – is snappy.

This will not only help increase adoption but will also reduce the likelihood of customer complaints and poor reviews in the app stores where they are exposed to everyone.

In addition, because mobile applications are part of a broader Web strategy, consider benchmarking, measuring and optimizing your mobile application performance just as you do – or should do – with your existing full-browser Web site and mobile site. 

Also remember that some mobile applications can become very popular virtually overnight.

Before launching an application, you should load test to ensure strong performance in the event of a best-case massive download scenario.

RESEARCH HAS shown that 58 percent of mobile phone users expect Web sites to load as quickly on their mobile phones as they do on their PCs. 

Clearly, the days of poor Web performance being acceptable “because it’s mobile” are well behind us. 

While there is no single design approach that works best for all retailers, decisions should ultimately be centered on how you can best meet your customers’ needs and expectations.

Regardless of which approach you choose, allowing mobile customers to access the content they want, when they want it – in a fast, reliable and convenient manner – is critical for successful mobile commerce.

Matthew Poepsel is Lexington, MA-based vice president of performance strategies at Gomez, the Web performance division of Compuware. Reach him at

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