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The Startup

Bridging the m-commerce Gap

Mobile has taken over everything from gaming to computing — but strangely, not shopping. That’s about to change.

A decade after smartphones arrived on the high street, mobile dominates everything from paying bills to hailing cabs — but not shopping. In e-commerce, the all-powerful smartphone still punches below its weight.

It’s an odd one. Mobile web traffic is surging — driving more than 56 per cent of visits to retailer websites — but those sessions convert at less than half the rate of desktop — 2.25% to almost 5%.

More and more people reach for their handsets first when they want to look at products, so what’s stopping them from following through with a purchase?

The m-commerce conversion killer

Most retailers have shifted their mobile websites to browser-responsive technology. It recognises where traffic is coming from and displays information accordingly, but it also traps the mobile shopping experience in amber.

When responsive design first arrived it dragged the mobile web out of the dark doldrums of WAP, but responsive sites are still designed for desktop first — just rendered for smaller screens.

Layouts and images are adjusted to suit mobile dimensions and input methods (great), but full use of all the advanced features smartphone users take for granted remain out of reach (less great).

Along with limited functionality, responsive web design clutters mobile screens with content that mobile users don’t need. They get overloaded with information or see it presented weirdly.

Many responsive sites distort their page layouts on smartphones, ‘bleeding’ off the screen or taking up too much of it. Others don’t optimize image dimensions or file sizes, affecting load times. Users get tired of waiting, bored of scrolling, and quickly lose interest.

The limits of responsive design

It’s shopping though where mobile-responsive websites really drop the ball. Trying to buy something on a mobile website site is do-able, but slow and cumbersome.

To complete a purchase, shoppers have to:

  1. Leave one screen and jump to another if they need to enter data

2. Scroll down long vertical pages of search results

3. Pinch and zoom screens to see small print

4. Wait for pages to load

That's enough to leave most carts abandoned, but the real conversion killer is the absence of advanced m-commerce functions like easy access to saved customer profiles. Mobile shoppers can’t rely on autofill to complete address, shipping, or payment information — straightforward, time-saving tools that make it easy to buy.

Instead they have to tap-in credit card and address details manually — less than ideal if you’re standing in line or sitting on a train as it enters a tunnel. That stops many mobile shoppers from initiating a purchase or sees them abandoning their carts altogether.

Surveys suggest 85% of adults think that a company’s mobile website should be as good or better than its desktop version, while 57% of internet users say they won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed mobile presence.

How can retailers close the conversion gap between mobile and desktop?

Make your mobile site better

Retailers should make sure their mobile sites deliver the goods when it comes to the critical elements of mobile browsing. That includes how quickly pages load and respond to end-user action.

According to figures from Google, more than half of smartphone users will quickly abandon a mobile website if they have to wait longer than three seconds for it to load. Half of mobile users expect mobile sites to load in less than two seconds.

That sets the UX bar pretty high. To keep up with rising expectations, brands have to do the heavy lifting around optimizing images for mobile, detecting screen sizes for proper rendering, and fixing compressions issues. These are common problems that slow down mobile page loads and leave users gnashing their teeth.

Extend the mix of channels

To really improve m-commerce conversion, any business selling online, B2B or B2C, should consider adding an app — either a browser-based progressive web app (PWA) or a native app.

Both make mobile shopping fast and seamless. PWAs are faster and more cost-effective to develop, appearing automatically in the handset web browser. Native apps need more development resources and have to be installed locally.

Regardless of which one you choose, user experience with an app is simply better. Higher conversions and greater loyalty are the results.

Research by Criteo shows that mobile apps make transactions three times more efficient transactions conducted on mobile sites — and even one-and-a-half times more efficient than desktop.

That’s because the purchase journey is far more optimized in a mobile app. The make or break moment of a mobile purchase is the point when a user must enter data. Registering or logging into an account makes checkout that much more difficult, and it’s here that most mobile shopping carts are abandoned.

Add enhanced mobile shopping functions

Ninety-four per cent of mobile visitors reach this point then abandon their purchase. It’s often just too awkward to type credit card details when you’re on the move.

In many cases, smartphone shoppers frustrated by too much data input will either go back to desktop to complete the purchase or move on to something else as the buying impulse evaporates.

The answer is to implement one-tap buy via services like Apple Pay, Google Pay, and Samsung Pay.

One-tap-buy dramatically simplifies the mobile shopping experience by eliminating most data input, using the info already stored in the phone’s mobile wallet instead.

Taking that a step further, enabling biometric payment confirmation from a thumbprint or Apple’s Face ID adds another level of ease and convenience — options only available with an app.

Crossing the mobile chasm

Mobile shopping has officially arrived, and it’s hard to imagine consumers ever going back. Numbers from Monetate show mobile consistently growing its quarterly share of web traffic, outstripping desktop globally by 60 per cent to 31 per cent[1].

Consumers are visiting webstores in droves and browsing the virtual aisles. The question for retailers is: can you keep them there and convince them to shop?

[1] Monetate: Ecommerce Quarterly Benchmarks Q2 2019



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Mark Dewolf

Mark Dewolf


Chronicling digital’s impact on absolutely everything. More at