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Why the mobile Web – and not apps – is the best channel for sales

March 12, 2012

Michael Darnaud is CEO of i-Cue Design

By Michael Darnaud

A recent ZMags survey, “Meet the connected consumer,” shows that 87 percent of connected consumers prefer to use Web sites and browser-based mobile sites for browsing and shopping, whereas only 4 percent prefer smartphone and tablet applications.

ZMags even concludes that “retailers need to think about the purpose of these apps and determine the role of the app in the customer lifecycle.”

An earlier study, commissioned by Adobe in October 2010 and titled “In-the-Know about On-the-Go: Adobe Captures What Mobile Users Want,” already indicated that 67 percent of shoppers “strongly prefer using mobile Web sites over mobile apps for all shopping-related activities,” so the trend has dramatically accelerated in the past 15 months.

Losing appetite
The reality is that consumers have a hard time keeping track of multiple apps – not to mention having to update them periodically – and would much rather keep more space for music and photos on their smartphones.

Yahoo may well have been showing others the way by announcing last month that it was retiring a number of apps due to poor usage.

In other studies released right after last year’s shopping season, more than 40 percent of mobile buyers reported being unhappy with their shopping experience and consumers still routinely abandon their online shopping carts up to 70 percent of the time.

What can the industry do to demonstrate that it is actually listening to its users?

The first wave of mobile commerce development has favored massive investment in apps for different platforms and different purposes – special promotions, comparison shopping and loyalty programs.

As in any new product introduction, now is the time to evaluate customer feedback via real life behavior to make changes accordingly and also to look at the bottom line.

The connected-consumer study shows that it makes sense to separate the wheat from the chaff and streamline the number of apps, so that a portion of development resources can be re-assigned to improving site design for the mobile Web in favor of the customer’s experience.

Time to question
A number of organizations perform regular tests on retailers’ sites performance, so we know what the main candidates for improvement are. Here are a few key questions that Internet retailers, large and small, should ask themselves:

 How good is your site’s response time – most critically when the consumer comes in on a smartphone? One key issue is how many images you have per page and whether their definition is compatible with the 2G or even 3G speed that most phones still provide.

 How complex is your navigation? How many clicks does it take to get to the desired product? Have you looked at how long it takes, on average, for transaction data to be sent or confirmed between a mobile device and your server? Do you factor that into your assessment of user experience?

 How many page changes or re-loads are required for a customer to add to cart? Must they be forced to see a “view cart” page every time? And then must they navigate “back” or click to “continue shopping” for another page reload? Have you timed that process?

 More generally, how is the shopping flow on your site? Psychology researchers have demonstrated that not interrupting the actions of a particular consumer may provide a much higher percentage of completed transactions. Does your site interrupt a customer’s shopping experience by forcing them to see pages or information that they did not specifically ask for?

 Have you investigated alternative solutions to reducing the time it takes to use your cart? Our research shows that despite the availability of time-saving options such as AJAX, less than 5 percent of the top 500 retailers actually use it.

 What if you could just place a checkmark next to the item you wish to purchase with no page reload required and not one change to the page you are looking at except a message that pops up: “item added”? What if you could navigate around your site with no interruption at all, focused only on your intentions, undistracted? We are aware of at least one company that offers such an innovative solution.

 Will HTML5 solve all problems? No. The most likely advantage from HTML5 will come in the form of quicker display of information of interest. But the design of a commercial site that favors the user experience will still be an issue for the reasons mentioned above.

RETAILERS NEED TO look closely at how they allocate their 2012 budgets, reduce the amount spent on apps and increase development resources dedicated to improving their mobile sites.

Consumers have clearly spoken: apps are not the most efficient conduit to sales, by far.

Michael Darnaud is CEO of i-Cue Design, San Francisco. Reach him at

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One Response to “Why the mobile Web – and not apps – is the best channel for sales”

  1. Bryan Says:

    Completely Disagree Solutions like SeQR Pay will revolutionize the way retailers and brands look at mobile Commerce. With picture to purchase mechanisms like SeQR Pay people will need apps to quickly purchase what they want. The experience on mobile optimized is terrible, less secure, have to sign in everytime and takes loads of time dependent on bandwidth. the future is bright for mobile commerce, key players are just not pushing it as it should be.

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