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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:

Amazon search box

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:

Amazon search results

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.

Graham Charlton

Published 17 July, 2009 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

Comments (4)

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Maneet Puri

Great article! Mobile web is sure on the rise as the use of internet enabled mobile devices increases. Businesses have an all new audience base to cater to.

It is important to understand that unlike desktop browsing where users are focused on the large screens and are at one place, they may be present in a very busy environment while using the mobile web. That is why it is important to make things easier for them and feature only the most important and relevant elements of the website.

about 7 years ago

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Ambarish Mitra

Mobile commerce has been here for a while but most businesses havent adapted their business models to this new channel. This is a brilliant blog to create this awareness.

Many businesses dont understand that they dont have to create a seperate .mobi site, but can do with making existing site compatible with different mobile platforms and screen resolutions.

There are some service providers like wapple who provide a simple platform solution suited for most businesses.

about 7 years ago

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Simon Perry, Xibis

Great article.  You are 100% right about the click-to-call button.  When we initially developed Interflora's m-commerce site, we were expecting most of the users to use the phone number.  However, we've been suprised to find that the number of people using the checkout process is much higher than expected.

about 7 years ago

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Magento webshop specialist

Realy good article! Mobile marketing will grow more in 2010. Magento mobile wil help this growth. Magento mobile mcommerce opensource software is really user friendly and free in use. We as a dutch ecommerce specialist love Magento and the mobile version. We will use your article to make even better mcommerce webshops. thx for the article !

about 6 years ago

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