mCommerce Made Easy
The refrain you will hear from every digital marketer, again and again, and one that has been repeated since 2006, is that "this is the year of mobile" – and, finally, 2011 can actually lay claim to that title.
Last year, internet usage on a mobile phone increased from 44 per cent in 2010 to 74 per cent in 2011. According to the UK Office for National Statistics, 6m users in the UK accessed the internet from a mobile device for the first time.
However, it remains pretty difficult to buy something from a mobile device, even a smartphone. Although you can easily just ring up for a takeaway, try using a service like Just Eat from start to finish including signing in using a 4” touchscreen smartphone – it's no easy task.
Art of marketing
The best way for businesses to ensure conversions, is through ‘ease of use’ – the easier you make it for someone to buy something, and the less hurdles you put in their way, the more likely they are to buy your product.
Once you pin down the design and usability of your site, the next step is actually getting visitors to land on your site, and this is where the art of marketing disciplines SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and PPC (Pay Per Click) come in. The vagaries of search engines such as Google can be hard to predict, but what you do with the visitors you have managed to gain is entirely your game to lose.
Many industry specialists think that mobile marketing must mean creative social campaigns, liberal usage of QR codes, extending all the way through to alternate reality games – that's fine and well, these things definitely have their place, and are invaluable for building a buzz. But it's the work that gets done behind the scenes that ensures whether you manage to make your eCommerce a success for mobile users.
The first and most obvious issue is that of scaling to mobile resolutions. Based on detecting the user-agent of the browser that the visitor comes in on, two or even three different CSS (the formatting code that determines how your site looks) instances of your website should be presented.
This is known as 'graceful scaling'. Obvious options would be one instance for PCs and one for phones, with possibly one for tablets. Imagine if a user comes in on an iPhone and is presented with a scaled-down screen 1280 pixels wide. Needing to then zoom in and around to do anything, usability becomes impossible and the chances of them buying anything approaches zero.
A second point is that of the concept of conversion rate optimisation - specifically, removing little 'gotcha's and barriers to use throughout the purchase funnel. As examples of this, you don't want to be presenting captchas to mobile users, you don't want to be using drop-downs (hard to navigate on lots of phones). You also want to be keeping as much of the information as possible that the user enters on one page, so they don't have to navigate back and forth as much if they realise they've made a mistake.
Most mobile connections remain relatively slow, and having to deal with brand new page fetch requests and downloading lots of data every time they want to go backwards or forwards in the purchase process is a pretty bad idea. You'll see lots of users bouncing away from pages which are slow or difficult to use.
Another huge part of this is storing previous credit card details and addresses, and not throwing up issues with the differences between billing and delivery addresses. On normal computers, this can be a pain; on a mobile, it's a nightmare.
Yet another is anonymous purchasing. I have seen time and again conversion issues whereby retail sites force you to register for a site account and then validate your password before you can buy anything. This, to me, is crazy - imagine going into your local corner shop and being forced to fill out a membership form to buy some milk. Sites which allow anonymous purchasing – one off, with no account details needed – regularly see higher conversion rates than those that don't; because unless your price on a product is substantially cheaper than that of your competitors, the golden search marketing mantra that ‘users are lazy and impatient’ tells us that they'll simply bounce off to another site and buy it where it's quicker to do so.
A major way around this is the ideal of one-click purchasing. Where possible, enable a payment system (such as PayPal or Google Instant Checkout) which stores payment details behind a password and allows you to click a button once to purchase the whole your order whilst having to do very little.
Amazon has nearly perfected this with the content delivery system on the Kindle - you simply search for your book, click it once, and it's bought and paid for. Simple, incredibly easy, and therefore wildly popular.
So, to sum up - if you can get your site to present a version which allows the user to see a screen formatted to fit their size of device, that presents as few forms and obstacles as possible, and which allows them to buy the products and have them delivered and shipped with only a couple of pages loaded and buttons clicked - your site is going to be better than 99 per cent of the offerings out there and make you a fortune. So go forth and conquer, brave mobile developers!
Bob Cook is a project manager, specialising in technical SEO, at Edinburgh-based digital agency QueryClick.