A third of smartphone owners have used their device to buy a product online, according to a new survey.

The study by EPiServer found that a further 26% had bought something online using an app.

The findings show that mobile commerce is becoming more important in the UK, with consumers increasingly using mobiles to engage with brands, find information and make purchases.

A majority of UK consumers (59%) now own a smartphone and 18% have a tablet device, so the market is too big to ignore for online retailers.

However, the results show that some retailers have to work on improving their mobile offering.

The survey aimed to find out how consumers and marketers are using mobile sites and apps. For the consumer survey EPiSurver interviewed 1,000 people, while for the marketers survey it interviewed 200 senior UK marketing executives.

Here are some of the findings…

Problems browsing

The survey found that 32% of smartphone users found mobile websites hard to navigate, while 35% said that if a site is hard to use they will drop off.

Almost half of users (49%) said they find mobile sites slow, though this is as much down to poor 3G coverage as mobile site design.

More importantly for retailers, 35% said mobile sites are often missing important functionality, and 19% said they found it hard to access the content they were looking for.

Three strikes

We assume that mobile users tend to be quite impatient and fickle, and this study certainly backs that up. 

A quarter of mobile users (25%) said they would try a competitor if a mobile site wasn’t working, and 64% said they would only give a mobile site an average of three chances to work before moving on.

Tellingly though, 22% of respondents said they prefer using mobile apps to mobile web browsers, which shoes that mobile sites have some work to do to match the in-app experience. 

Give the customer what they want

Although consumers are ready and waiting with their mobile devices, only 20% of marketers surveyed had a mobile optimised site and 18% had a mobile app.

Howeve,r this situation is likely to improve in the near future, as 76% of marketers say they have a mobile strategy in place and just over a quarter (26%) say they plan to launch a mobile optimised site in the next 12 months.

At least 18% of marketers said that 21-30% of their marketing budget is now allocated to mobile.

Barriers to success

Consumers are not alone in experiencing frustration with the mobile platform, with marketers reporting numerous problems when developing their mobile strategy.

Almost a quarter (24%) said they lack the proper technology, 23% didn’t have the necessary staff resource and 7% had trouble proving ROI.

The survey found that marketers are alert to the benefits of a mobile site or app, with 35% saying they would expect to see increased traffic and 39% expecting a boost in sales.

How do the top retailers do it?

To give some practical examples of how brands are approaching mobile EPiServer benchmarked the UK’s top ten retailers, taken from the IMRG Experian Hitwise Hot Shops List, against a set of criteria.

These retailers were:

  • Amazon UK
  • Argos
  • Next
  • Tesco
  • Amazon.com
  • Play.com
  • M&S
  • Apple
  • John Lewis
  • Thomson

The benchmarking was carried out using an iPad, iPhone and an Android smartphone. The average score was 47%, which suggest there is still some work to be done, though there was a wide range of scores.

Argos came top with 82%, while Thomson and Play.com (which don’t have mobile optimised sites) scored a lowly 0% and 2% respectively.

Only Amazon UK and US, Argos, Tesco and Next achieved above average scores, which is cause for concern when 76% of UK consumers have used a mobile website in the last 12 months.

As many as 30% of the retailers in the list didn’t even have a mobile optimised site. We looked at the top 50 list recently, and found that 12 of the 50 had no mobile site or app

Retailer mobile sites

The survey found that, across the three devices, 90% of the top ten retailer’s mobile sites fit well onto a smaller screen.

However, only 60% allowed up and down navigation instead of left to right.

Retailers proved they were paying attention to consumer needs when it came to the basics. 

Out of the retailers in the benchmark, almost all (70%) had easy to find directions to stores (Amazon and Play.com were excluded from this section of the benchmark as they do not have high street outlets), which is good considering that 51% of consumers said they use mobile websites to look up directions. 

The mobile sites we assessed also did well at including essential information, such as customer service numbers (70%), but only 50% made them easy to find.

80% of retailers with a mobile site kept call to action buttons large and clear, which is particularly important for touchscreen devices.

Retailer iPad apps

Just under a third of retailers had specific iPad apps, however all apps designed for iPhone could be used on an iPad.

All of the iPad apps scored highly though. The study found that 97% were easy to use, including those that were developed for iPhone.

Just over half (64%) navigated up and down instead of left to right, but only one supported zooming.

Half of the iPad apps assessed scored full marks when it came to accessibility and 63% included directions to offline stores, slightly less than on mobile-specific websites.

Retailer iPhone apps

The retailers also scored well when it came to iPhone apps, with all apps scoring full marks for usability. 

93% of the apps navigated up and down, which is key for good usability.

When looking at the accessibility of essential company information and directions to outlets (Amazon and Play.com were again excluded from this part of the benchmark because they were online only) the iPhone apps scored 58% and 63% respectively.

Retailer Android apps

Retailers scored well in this category as well, with 100% of apps proving to be easy to use and 95% navigating up and down.

However, Android apps generally made it hard to find essential information with only 50% scoring full marks here and only 12.5% giving directions to store locations.