Marks & Spencer has just made its first move into mobile commerce, and unlike some other UK retailers, it has opted for a mobile website rather than an app.
M&S says this is a 'major step forward in mobile retailing', a move which will change the mobile retail landscape.
I've been trying the new site out (on an iPhone), and though it's generally impressive, M&S may want to make a few changes to make the checkout smoother...
The homepage on the mobile site is clearly laid out and M&S has kept it nice and simple, with a prominent search box and a simple list of seven product categories to navigate to. For those visitors that just want to find their nearest store, there is a clear link to the store finder at the top of the page.
As well as providing another sales and research channel for customers, mobile sites and apps can also be a way to drive sales through local stores, and one way to do this is by providing a store locator.
This is one area where apps can be more useful, since this mobile site doesn't detect my location and serve up the stores nearest to me. Still, tapping in the first part of a postcode isn't too difficult to do.
I can also search for stores by street, town or by name, and also look only for stores which offer certain services, such as a cafe or bureau de change. The opening hours are provided, as well as contact details, a list of services on offer, as well as links to maps and driving directions.
Navigation on the app is clear and simple. Categories have been laid out in list form, which makes them easier to scan, and to click or tap on. There are also enough sub-categories so that users don't end up with too many products to scroll through.
For instance, to get from the 'mens' category to formal shirts takes four clicks. This means a more accurate browsing experience, though the flipside is that it takes a little longer to get there.
Once users get to this point, the product list is easy enough to scroll down, with the product title, price, available colours, and small photos to give a quick view of products. There are also more options to sort results.
The site search works well enough, handling common misspellings and producing accurate results for the terms I tried, though the search results pages need more filtering and sorting options for common search terms.
For instance, a search for 'blue shirt' produces 647 results, which are split over 54 pages, with the only sorting options being price, bestselling, and recent arrivals, which doesn't help users narrow the selection enough.
The product pages are as detailed as any I have seen on a mobile site, and cover just about all bases.
The product pages are relatively long to scroll down, but provide plenty of information, including whether or not the items are in stock, and plenty of alternative views:
Delivery and returns information has to be viewed via a link. In the case of delivery charges, since there are only two price options, it might have been better to display this directly on the product page to save time spent loading up the page.
This is the point at which a lot of mobile commerce sites and apps disappoint by simply tacking on the checkout from the main website, but M&S has a checkout that has been optimised for mobiles.
However, it does insist on registration before checkout for new customers, which is even more of a barrier to purchase on mobiles than it is on standard websites.
This is a move which could deter some new visitors from purchase, especially as it can be a bit fiddly. My passwords didn't match initially, but you only see this error message when you scroll down the page; it isn't made clear enough.
While the process has been adapted for mobile users, and data entry is simple enough, and the forms are easy to navigate. However, there are still a few areas where it could be made simpler.
For instance, when selecting delivery options, you have a choice between standard and nominated day delivery, but you still have to load another page (slowly) to see the charges, and then hit the back button to get back to the checkout. This is time-consuming on variable mobile connections, and unnecessary.
There is probably more text than is strictly necessary on the payment page, so that the payment form is only visible when you scroll down:
Even existing customers have to re-enter their card numbers, though the site promises that future payments will be smoother, as details will be stored.
This is explained via the 'here's why' link you can see on the screenshot above, but as with the delivery charges link, no obvious return route to the checkout process is provided, and pressing the back button produces this alarming message:
Worse still, the most prominent link on the page sends users back to the shopping basket, meaning users have to sign in all over again and select delivery address and options to return to where they were before.
While the checkout process has been adapted for mobile users, there is still a lot that M&S can do to remove some of the friction that exists, and that may cause some customers to abandon the process.
After this move into mobile commerce from M&S, it will be interesting to see how many others follow suit, as there are still plenty of retailers in the UK yet to move into mobile commerce.
I think the decision to launch a mobile commerce site instead of an app is the right one, as it appeals to the broadest possible number of customers, though in the case of a large retailer like M&S, having an app as well may make sense. A mobile site is the best first step though.
While the overall site design and navigation is excellent, I think the checkout process does let it down, thanks to compulsory registration, text-heavy pages, and the help pages leading to dead ends.