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36% of the top 100 brand sites in the UK have not been optimised for mobile and yet we’re seeing window shopping going virtual.

So if your mobile site isn’t ready, you’re missing out on the first stage of the buying process.

Even if shoppers don’t trust their touch-screen devices enough to make the final purchase via a mobile connection, they are definitely using it to browse, share and fill up their baskets.

That statistic comes from the IAB's European Mobile Optimisation study and reflects information on this trend, which came from the IMRG Capgemini Quarterly Benchmarking.

This report discovered that sales via mobile devices in the UK were actually up in the last quarter of 2013: 32% of UK online sales, compared to 27% in Q3.

Even more interestingly, the report found that visits to ecommerce sites via smartphone and tablet devices now account for nearly half of traffic. Consumers, it seems, are increasingly using their mobile devices as research tool and a shopping platform. 

For retailers, the recent comScore research also has significant implications. They discovered that multi-platform use in retail grew between July & December 2013 (from 53% to 57%). 

At Spreadshirt we’re definitely seeing the rise of virtual window shopping. This early stage of the buying process tends to be more social; it’s where people look for inspiration from their friends and share ideas, as well as comparing products and prices.

Often however, this is a precursor to completing the sale on a desktop. Last year 15% of our sales at Spreadshirt started with this sort of browsing and we’re expecting that to rise to 25% this year as the trend takes off. 

So consumers are now using their mobiles for a spot of window shopping, as pre-sales research tools, or to actually buy something, but retailers are not always providing them with the ideal experience.

As consumer behaviour changes, not creating a user-friendly and mobile-specific browsing experience may mean risking losing the customer altogether! 

So, what should online retailers be looking out for in order to respond to this development?

1. Focus on the customer

Developing specifically for touch-screen devices is a very good practice. While it might be easy to keep adding functions and complexity to a desktop version, this should be the opposite for mobile.

Concentrate on the core things your customers really care about. Which functionality do they need to browse and buy on your site?

The touch experience needs to be much simpler and more intuitive since it’s happening on a smaller screen.

If you apply these fundamentals to your desktop experience you will also end up with a much simpler site to use, translating into happier customers. 

2. Watch behaviour 

Ecommerce doesn’t always develop in the way we’re expecting. Browsing is happening everywhere now, in all sorts of previously unused time spots.

Online retailers need to watch their customers’ shopping behaviour and adapt accordingly.

Are you seeing rush hour peaks as commuters kill time waiting for transport? Are there spikes in online activity in the evening, but with purchases completed in the early morning before work?

These could be signs that your customers are using their touch-screen devices for pre-sales browsing.  

3. What’s happening in the basket? 

High basket abandonment is the curse of the online retailer. This can be addressed through an improved pre-sales experience, where consumers can try things out, add things to their basket or update their wish list in little pockets of time.

When customisation is involved, purchases via mobile devices tend to result in less complex designs and smaller, but converted, baskets.

Savvy retailers however, are offering consumers a two-pronged approach: the opportunity to start the design process on a touch-screen device and then refine their idea on a laptop later. 


4. Are you in their top five? 

PwC’s research is also telling; consumers limit their virtual high street. As we can see, people are getting more comfortable with mobile shopping, but 57% of UK online shoppers are tending to limit it to five or fewer retailers citing reasons of trust and price.

If your site isn’t optimised for use from their touch-screen device are you going to be one of their top five retailers?  

5.Don’t be distracted by an app 

It’s all about meeting the needs of your consumers, not about having the latest technology bauble.

By looking at our consumers’ activity, we discovered that touch-device activity forms 20% of Spreadshirt’s global traffic, most of which comes via search.

So we’ll be concentrating on creating responsive design interfaces for touch screen browsers in 2014; making it easier for consumers, brands and their fans to create, sell and buy ideas on merchandising. 

Touch-screen devices have lead the virtualisation of window shopping. Being able to browse, store and share liked products on the move, to buy later, is a vital part of the pre-sales experience.

Online retailers need to catch-up with this and make sure their browsing experience is optimised for virtual window shopping!

Philip Rooke

Published 12 May, 2014 by Philip Rooke

Philip Rooke is CEO of Spreadshirt and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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