For mobile internet users shopping offline, mobile price comparison sites should provide a useful service, allowing shoppers to look up reviews and see what kind of value they are getting.
Mobile users are using their phones to access product reviews and compare prices when shopping instore, so how well do price comparison sites cater for this consumer behaviour?
I've been looking at the mobile sites for some of the major UK shopping comparison sites, or at least the ones that offer mobile services. Perhaps I missed them, but I couldn't find such sites for Dooyoo, Ciao and Shopzilla among others, which seems like a missed opportunity.
Other comparison sites that had mobile versions tended to bury the liks to them amongst the small print on their websites, rather than give them some prominence, which would be useful for mobile users. Also, Twenga excepted, I couldn't find any sites that had either been optimised for smartphones or that had produced mobile apps for shoppers.
Here's a rundown of some of the mobile comparison sites I found. I searched for 'iPod Touch' on each as it should be a product stocked by plenty of retailers, and will therefore produce plenty of results.
One good best practice tip for mobile websites is to divert users that access the standard site by mobile to the version for the small screen, which even on the bigger mobile screens of iPhones and Blackberries, will make it easier to access more quickly, which instore shoppers will need to do.
For example, if I search for 'PriceGrabber' and don't happen to know the mobile site's URL, this homepage is tricky to negotiate, and finding a link for the mobile version is almost impossible.
The mobile version makes navigation much clearer on a small screen, though you need click a link to get to the crucial search function:
The site has a basic look, and hasn't been updated as yet for the new generation of mobiles, but it is functional and does at least allow for a quick price comparison, though the prices are in Dollars, which isn't much use for UK users:
Also, though a five star rating has been provided for products, detailed reviews are unavailable on the site. To make it more usable for smartphone users, it needs to be updated with quicker search, better presentation of results, and more detailed user reviews.
Kelkoo's beta mobile site is much better, though users still need to type the URL in to access this version. It works much better on an iPhone though, and though the homepage is pretty basic, it does at least direct users straight to the search function:
Unlike the other sites, the search function auto-completes your search terms and suggests products for misspelled searches. Search results are well-presented, and prices displayed to allow users to scan quickly and compare prices:
The individual product pages provide more details, as well as detailing the different retailers offering the product. It also offers a link to the website to buy the product, and warns users if these sites are not optimised for mobile, which is a nice touch.
Reevoo primarily provides certified reviews for other online retailers to display on their product pages, but launched its own website a year ago. It launched an iPhone-optimised mobile site just before Christmas.
The large selection of user reviews makes Reevoo a useful resource for shoppers using mobiles, especially people shopping for gadgets and other electrical goods.
The search results are well displayed with a summary of average user rating, and clicking on individual listings gives you detailed user reviews to read:
For shoppers looking for detailed product reviews, this is the best mobile site to use. There is a good range for most electrical products, and the site is easy to use, and fast to load. Though it does mention that 'prices start from £...' on each listing, it doesn't give any price comparison information across different retailers, which is something the main website does.
The text on the PriceRunner mobile site, which has clearly not been updated for a few years, is so small that it makes use on smartphones very difficult. On an iPhone, you'll need to zoom in first, which defeats the object of having a mobile site:
The search results suffer from the same problem, and the price comparison page takes some squinting to look at, unless you zoom in:
What it does do at least, is provide a good range of prices for comparison from ten or more retailers, so customers can at least work out if they can buy a product cheaper elsewhere. It provides a link to each retailer, but no link to the website, or any further useful information is offered.
Twenga is the only UK shopping comparison site I could find which has produced a dedicated iPhone app for mobile shoppers, and this makes it much easier to use. The site not only looks better than the others as a result, but also has more navigation options.
Previous product searches and selections can be saved for future use, while the site is easier to browse by product category or brand than the others I have looked at.
For mobile users shopping instore who want to get a quick comparison of prices or read some customer reviews, then using the search box is the quickest way to achieve this. This function works well, and even starts to auto-complete searches as you type, which makes it a little more user-friendly.
One problem with the search function is that Twenga hasn't provided a way to remove the iPhone keyboard once you have entered your search term. This means you can only see three results at a time, and is clearly something which needs to be fixed to make the app more usable.
Unlike the other mobile sites I've mentioned here, Twenga allows for both price comparison and reading customer reviews, though it does has a smaller selection of the latter than Reevoo.
This information is well presented, and it does display prices from a massive range of retailers; 107 for the 8Gb iPod Touch above. However, clicking on the individual retailers' results doesn't take you to their website, or even to a page with further information.
Still, for the fact that it has produced a usable mobile app, and manages to provide product information, price comparison and user reviews, Twenga is the best of the mobile comparison services, if you have an iPhone of course.
Though it seems like an obvious area for shopping comparison sites to move into, it seems these companies have yet to fully adapt to the mobile internet. For example, just 4 of the 16 companies profiled in our Comparison Engines Buyer's Guide 2008 offered mobile services.
Ownership of smartphones is becoming more widespread, and the mobile internet is growing, so more shoppers will start to use their phones while shopping offline.
There is a challenge in monetising traffic when people are actually out shopping rather than clicking through and buying online, but this is not impossible. Kelkoo has provided links to retailers from its mobile site to actually purchase products, and though this is dependent to a certain extent on how mobile-friendly these destination sites are, it is possible to buy products like this.
Also, if a site like PriceRunner can show mobile internet users a better deal than they are seeing when they are shopping instore, then some will wait until they get home and order online instead.
From the mobiles sites I have looked at here, it seems that comparison sites like PriceRunner and Shopzilla need to adapt to increased mobile internet use by producing more usable mobile versions, and looking at providing dedicated shopping apps for smartphone users.