Mobile commerce is still in its early stages and, while there are very few m-commerce sites in the UK, 5% of the Top 500 US online retailers have them, with more on the way.
Translating the desktop shopping experience to mobiles isn't easy, and keeping it simple and usable is important for users with small screens and often slow internet connections.
With this in mind, I've come up with a few best practice tips for mobile commerce based on the sites I have seen...
Make it easy for users to find
Unless they already have your mobile site's URL bookmarked, mobile users will come to your site through a search engine. Diverting users to the mobile version when they are on their phones will save time hunting around for a link.
Even on smartphones, navigating through a busy homepage can be tricky, so sending users straight to the mobile version makes it easier for them, while the option of viewing the standard website can always be provided.
Simple search box
With less room for navigation options, the site search box becomes more important on a mobile commerce site, so it needs to be nice and prominent, while placing it on every page may also be a good idea so customers don't have to head back to the homepage to start a new search.
On Amazon's mobile site, for instance, it is virtually impossible to find the product you want by browsing, unless it happens to be in the top sellers list, so the search box is the main method of navigation:
Auto-suggest / deal with misspellings
Since typing in terms on mobiles can be fiddly, an auto-suggest feature to predict the product people are typing in would help save time for users, and avoid misspelled search terms.
Alternatively, sites could deal with the problem by anticipating misspelled searches and correcting them for users on the search results page.
Provide sorting/filtering options
Shoppers don't like having to to scroll down huge lists of results, so they need some decent sorting and filtering options to narrow their product searches.
Decent filters are important for any e-commerce site, but even more so on mobile connections that may vary in speed and quality,so allowing users to sort by category, price range etc will make it more likely that they will find the product they want and buy it.
Use a simple layout
Removing any unnecessary content and visual decoration is a must to cut down on load times and distractions on the mobile internet, so keeping it simple is the key here.
Amazon Mobile is a good example of this, producing a simple and usable mobile site which still retains most of the useful features of the standard version, while others, such as Interflora's mobile site, just have a limited range of products on offer to make it easier to use.
Not too many menu options
You may have thousands of products and lots of categories on your main website, but attempting to display them all on a mobile site will result in a cluttered and slow loading page which will deter users.
Interflora provides a good example of this, which works well on the iPhone, providing a drop down list of seven categories which keeps the homepage nice and simple:
Keeping the menu / navigation options simple, by just displaying the top selling categories, or by providing expanded categories after shoppers have selected the first menu option.
Keep the number of clicks required to a minimum
If people know what they want, then make it easy for them to purchase it from your mobile site, keeping the number of clicks as low as possible between the homepage and the checkout.
Amazon provides a good example of this on its search result pages; clicking on the arrow next to a product listing will open up links to add the item to your shopping basket or wishlist.
If shoppers know what they want, this saves them the extra step of going to the product page before heading to the checkout:
Product pages: make sure key information is provided
There is obviously less room to display as many details on a mobile commerce site as on desktop versions, but people still need to know about delivery charges, returns policies, delivery estimates etc, as these details can influence the purchase decision.
Shorten the checkout process
The more fields there are to fill in during the checkout process and pages there are to load, the slower and more frustrating it becomes for users.
It is important to keep the process smooth on any e-commerce site, but doubly so for mobiles. Keep the information required to a minimum, and only ask what is essential to complete the purchase.
Another way to shorten the process is to allow registered users to have their address and payment details saved, so all they need to do is sign in to make a payment.
Do not make registration compulsory
Registration can be a pain on any e-commerce site, as it adds an extra obstacle when all customers want to do is complete their purchase. It is even more annoying on a mobile commerce site.
Avoid sending users to pages which are not optimised for mobile
This follows on from the point above. It's all very well having a well optimised mobile site that allows customers to browse and add items to their basket, only to be sent to the main website to complete the purchase.
In the UK, Amazon and Interflora both have checkouts that have been tailored to mobile users, but the Oasis iPhone app, which is otherwise pretty good, suffers at the payment stage, as users then have to get through the standard checkout on a small mobile screen, which does not provide a great user experience, and may be enough to deter many customers.
Provide reassurances about security
While a recent US survey suggested that 71% of mobile users think it is safe to make purchases through their phones, reassurance is still important for customers entering their card details.
This means providing logos and links to information about payment security to answer any such concerns. I haven't seen much evidence of this, on UK m-commerce sites at least.
While the Interflora mobile site does a decent job in general, it doesn't offer any such reassurances for customers, though Amazon does at least offer a link to explain why paying using a credit card is safe.
Offer alternative payment methods
The checkout process is one of the biggest obstacles to customers who want to buy from their mobiles, as entering address and billing details is time-consuming.
Offering a click to call option, as Interflora does, is a good way to attract purchases from customers who may have concerns about checking out via the mobile or want to save time.