David Howell
David Howell
Trade and business journalist
with years of experience
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Smartphone commerce

With m-commerce set to eclipse e-commerce according to the latest reports, it’s vital to have a mobile-friendly website, says Dave Howell.


As a store owner you should be fully aware of the impact that e-commerce has had on your business. The online sales channel is now mature.

However, with the rise of the smartphone and tablet PC, m-commerce is set to once again revolutionise how your business operates in the digital environment.

M-commerce may be rapidly developing, but research has revealed that small-business owners are unprepared for this brave new world of mobile marketing.

A poll by MoPowered has shown that nearly 80 per cent of small businesses understand that m-commerce will become vital to their enterprises but only a quarter of those surveyed had websites that were compatible with smartphones and tablets.

Commenting on its research, MoPowered chief executive Dominic Keen said: “The retailers who we spoke to are right in thinking that mobile commerce is essential for their growth. Research from Google shows that 15 per cent of all online traffic is now coming through mobile phones. This means that not having a mobile-optimised site is equivalent to shutting your online store for one day every week.”

The MoPowered findings are also supported by additional research from 1&1 Internet. Despite the widespread adoption of mobile browsing by Britons, its data reveals that less than one in four firms recognise that their sales or brand could be enhanced with a more mobile-friendly website. Many companies could be alienating mobile online consumers and risking their own growth.

The research concluded: “The smaller screen and touch functionality of mobile devices can often make it necessary to adapt the design of websites. Furthermore, a significantly higher number of operating systems and browsers have to be supported when compared with local hardware such as PCs. From companies that have examined their web presence from a mobile, 41 per cent admit that their website has a reduced appearance from a mobile device, and 36 per cent know of reduced functionality. Worryingly, only seven per cent of firms were confident that they have optimised their websites for mobile use, while 65 per cent have no plans to do so.”

And there is a clear commercial imperative that all store owners need to pay close attention to. A report from eDigitalResearch found that consumers are increasingly using their smartphones to shop online and to price and feature check when they are in store.

Large retailers such as Tesco and Debenhams have reaped the benefits that m-commerce can bring. Now it is time for small businesses to take their slice of this market.


Mobile commerce

The reality for small businesses is that they must present an integrated shopping experience to their customers. The mobile channel is the latest touch point that consumers expect to be available from all the retailers they favour. As in the past where businesses that lacked a website were at a commercial disadvantage, today this now applies to their presence on mobile devices.

“If you haven’t established a mobile and/or tablet presence yet, you’re likely already falling behind your competitors,” said Tom Waterfall, director of optimisation solutions at Webtrends.

“The e-commerce landscape is already incredibly competitive. As a result, companies now need to worry about much more than just the traditional online channel and ensure that they are also optimised for smartphone and tablet. Despite the rapid growth and obvious trends, many companies do not yet appear to be ‘optimised’ for mobile, and much less for tablet.”

One company that has embraced the mobile channel is Unique Home Stays.

Marketing manager Claire Ray explained the approach: “We decided that it was crucial to implement a strategy for mobile users because this number is growing rapidly.

“At the time of developing we were getting around five per cent of our total traffic from the iPhone – that’s around 50,000 visits a year – so we were determined to make it easier for these potential customers.

“Small businesses not optimising their websites for mobile devices run the risk of missing out on a large percentage of business and, moving forward, this could be particularly damaging for them. It’s crucial to align your business with advances in technology and to be as malleable as the market demands.”

It is also important to understand how the mobile channel will fit with your wider business. Researching how your customers use their mobile devices in association with your business is critical information.

Based on this data, the mobile site you build will instantly have more appeal and, of course, offer the kind of commercial opportunities that you are looking for.


Responsive design

What has become clear is that a business’ website can’t be used for the m-commerce channel. The user experience when viewing websites on mobile devices can be frustrating – something to be avoided at all costs in an age where consumers want to shop quickly and efficiently.

Keynote Competitive Research says that 16 per cent of mobile users will not return or wait for your website to load if it takes too long and six per cent will go to a competitor’s site. Indeed, 64 per cent of respondents want a website to load onto their mobile device within four seconds.

Maria Wasing of EPiServer also advised: “When creating mobile sites, ease of navigation and accessibility of key features are too often overlooked but are critical to the user experience. When we asked consumers about their experiences of mobile sites, almost a third said that they found mobile websites hard to navigate, while 35 per cent said that mobile sites were often missing important functionality and that they found logins particularly difficult.”

In addition, Tom warned: “A classic mistake is people thinking that they can get away with their traditional online site on a tablet. Brands and companies that attempt to take a regular internet site and cram it into a small-screen experience quickly discover that consumers will not return to that site because it’s not serving any kind of meaningful function.

“If companies want to get ahead of their competitors, they should already be thinking about how they can create the best tablet experience for their users.”

There is no denying that m-commerce is on a meteoric rise to dominance. The adoption of the smartphone and tablet PC is now complete. Every retailer needs to ensure that they have a presence on this new channel but, more importantly, that this presence is optimised. Mobilising a website will often mean a complete redesign.

Claire added: “We have ensured that our website works well on the iPad. This has meant making links big enough to be clicked with the finger without zooming in. We’ve implemented a new photo gallery, which takes full advantage of the screen size, even more so than on the desktop. So there is no border and fewer thumbnails so landscape shots fill more of the screen.

“We’ve taken advantage of swipe navigation to make flicking between photos and scrolling through the thumbnails more intuitive for the tablet experience. We also have a couple more changes in the pipeline that will be pushed out soon.”

With smartphones and tablets continuing to take quantum leaps in processing power and functionality, these devices offer every retailer a chance to reach their customers literally at the touch of button.

The smartphone in particular has placed a powerful retailing device in the pockets of millions of consumers. It’s up to your business to leverage that platform with user-friendly mobile sites but, more importantly, to show your business’ customers that you understand how they want to shop with your company and provide them with the tools to do so effortlessly.

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