Now that mobile access is essentially ubiquitous, the leading ecommerce sites have incorporated responsive website design to ensure a seamless user experience between devices.

However, the conversion rates on mobile continue to lag significantly, and now we are left to deliver on this next frontier of mobile.

Figures show that there is a massive divide between adoption rates and conversion rates on mobile devices. That means that while there’s no doubt we’re all glued to our smartphones, we’re just lurking around the mobile web rather than becoming customers.

In fact, data from IBM shows that one-quarter of the visits to ecommerce sites occur on mobile devices, but only around 15% of purchases are made on the go.

Here’s where the plot thickens: 85% of online shoppers start searching on one device, most often a mobile phone, and make a purchase on another, according to Google. 

The disconnect 

Last month’s Conversion Conference in San Francisco had the #CRO (conversion rate optimization) experts buzzing about how companies were embracing mobile device strategies.

Conference attendees said a quarter of their site traffic was comprised of mobile devices and the conversion rate for smartphones tended to be just under 50%of the non-mobile traffic.

Let’s take a use case for a medium-sized ecommerce site.

Consider this extract of one of their Google Analytics reports from March:

The industry groups tablets and smartphones as mobile devices. But if we dive into these devices separately, the numbers change significantly.

Many conference attendees mentioned that conversion rates on iPads were actually superior to the desktop/notebook.

We can observe this when we dig deeper into this same mobile device report:

While the conversion rate for the iPad is higher than on desktop/notebook, the smartphone numbers remain significantly low.  How can we increase conversion from users on smartphones?

Hacking the conversion of smartphone-wielding shoppers

 #1 Seamless accounts

One of the most technically challenging elements of having consumers jumping from one device to another is the difficulty to track and personalize their experience.

They add items to their cart while shopping on their phone during their evening commute, then arrive home to their desktop and begin the process all over again.  

Today, many of the leading companies are encouraging shoppers to create user accounts and log in on each device. Their account changes are then automatically reflected across all of their mobile and Web experience. Additionally, account information, such as credit card details, are automatically stored, making it easier to purchase from a mobile device.

This has already caught on among the top etailers, but it will soon become an ecommerce standard for consumers.  

#2 Personalizing to convert more often

Once consumers have seamless accounts with e-tailers, it becomes much simpler to personalize their shopping experience and convert more often. If an item remains in the shopping cart for an extended period of time, a unique offer can be displayed the next time they access the website from a mobile device.

The same process can be applied to other marketing communications, such as sending an email when an item they have saved is about to sell out, or better yet, has gone on sale.

The preference history also provides a rich opportunity to customize the unique offerings and product recommendations on the website for that visitor - the holy grail of personalization. 

# 3 Moving down the funnel 

Sometimes, we have to embrace the fact that many users on mobile devices will not commit to making a purchase because of ingrained unfamiliarity with mobile shopping. Thus, we should apply these tactics not to make the immediate sale - but to send them down the funnel.

One solution worth testing is offering to send a reminder email so they can revisit the product when they are back on their desktop/notebook.

We do this by actually showing users an intervention recognizing that they are using a mobile device and suggesting that they email themselves that specific URL so they can conclude their browsing session at their computer. 

The mobile holy grail

While universal mobile logins and 1-click shopping are not yet the default, eventually we will be "logged in" constantly, with our credit card and shipping information stored in virtual wallets, making it very easy to purchase from just about any site on a mobile device.

Maybe this will be a native feature on the iOS or Android operating systems. But until then, we have to be creative and deliver the best experience for the device - but most importantly - for the context of that user.

Happy optimizing.

Phillip Klien

Published 13 May, 2013 by Phillip Klien

Phillip Klien is CEO and Co-Founder of SiteApps and a contributor to Econsultancy.

3 more posts from this author

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Comments (4)


Simon Liss

I don't buy the idea that the starting point for judging mobile site performance should be PC site performance. It assumes (as does a pure responsive design approach) that Mobile Internet usage is just like standard internet usage but on a smaller screen.

If you start from the one-web viewpoint, then you fail to recognise the mobile visitor for what they often are - quick browsers, in-store price checkers, store location finders, on-the-go e-mail openers etc. PC site performance has never been and will never be a sensible benchmark for non-PC traffic. Mobile usage paradigms are often very different, the detail is in the deltas!

The context of use cannot be ignored. Look at your mobile traffic and interpret their needs, don't try and make them behave the way you want them too.

Judging performance of a mobile (or PC) based e-commerce site on basket value alone does not take into account that a valid and profitable customer journey may not mean a sale via that channel.

They could spend 5 hours online in consideration mode, and then go into a bricks-and-mortar store and make a significant purchase in 5 minutes.

A clever approach is not to forcing mobile customers to purchase where you want them to. It is to allow them to have whatever journey suits their needs. Rather than attempting to optimise single channels, invest in a experience led approach, based on a single customer view and an attribution model that means that value is derived from connecting experience in increasingly effective ways.

In other words, omni-channel. And that also applies to those with just an e-commerce site - because this operates in at least two distinct channels (web and mobile), and arguably also across social and other connected channels and media.

about 5 years ago


Mike Boogaard

I agree with Simon that too much is being made of responsive design as the answer to multi-device purchase behaviour. Although relevant to make the cross-over between PC, Laptop and Tablet more seamless, it doesnt take into consideration the nature of mobile browsing (quick browsing, price comparison, etc.).

It is also important to differentiate between mobile sites and apps. Where mobile sites are often one-off visits, apps, by their very nature, are used on a much more repetitive/regular basis. This also needs to be reflected in the content and functionality.

Essentially, it shouldn't matter where the consumer lands. The entire e-tail estate should work flawlessly in harmony, surfacing content and products in a manner suitable to the size and nature of the device with the possibility of single sign-on (e.g. through Facebook login) in order to quickly get a personalised buying experience.

about 5 years ago

Pete Williams

Pete Williams, Managing Director at Gibe Digital

Along with the points above I know personally the reason I don't tend to actually purchase from my phone is the difficulty in entering details across multiple pages. Unless it's a one click login and purchase like Amazon then I know it's going to take time trying to type on the screen, and getting my card out on the train doesn't feel very safe.
As long as consumers can be made to feel secure and the process is simple then I think mobile purchases will increase in a short period of time.

about 5 years ago

Dominic Byrne

Dominic Byrne, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) at DigiToro

I agree with the previous comments completely.

People’s usage behavior is difference for mobiles. Your conversion goals should be different too.

The majority of our mobile traffic is simple store location and contact details.

We sell tyres online, not your average popular retail product but something that is becoming more popular to purchase online by the day, it’s the ultimate grudge purchase but everyone needs them.

You can buy tyres on our mobile platform and we see pre-purchase browsing behavior, but close to 90% of our mobile traffic is store location and store details. Therefore the focus should be on the users needs such as a seamless Google API plug-in, postcode search, store locater details etc. (Responsive design etc are just a given)

Develop based on analytics and behaviour, then add more functionality as you go.

We don’t focus on converting the mobile shopper through the checkout, not yet anyway.

Website if interested is

Dominic Byrne

about 5 years ago

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