With mobile traffic playing a significant role again this Christmas, I think we're finally at the point where retailers understand the importance of mobile UX

However, are they putting this into practice? Are mobile commerce sites beginning to meet users' expectations?

The expert panel

  • Matthew Curry, head of ecommerce at Lovehoney. 
  • Dan Barker, e-business consultant.
  • Stuart McMillan, deputy head of ecommerce at Schuh.
  • James Gurd, owner of Digital Juggler.

Have online retailers finally gotten to grips with mobile?

Stuart McMillan:

I think retailers still have some way to go in fully realising the potential of mobile.

User experiences are often still very frustrating, even from the very biggest companies. For example, I’d say none of the supermarkets have really nailed it yet, which is a surprise as convenience food shopping and mobile are ready bedfellows.

Site speed on mobiles is still an issue, too many companies are thinking desktop-first and haven’t given performance on mobile due care.

It’s little wonder that surveys show that slow site speed on mobiles is one of consumer’s pet hates.

James Gurd:

No. They’re getting better but there are still fundamental UX flaws in many mobile journeys, including desktop checkouts being shrunk down into a mobile version, often a legacy decision.

A bugbear of mine is profile continuity across devices and forcing people into corners.

A good example is basket synchronisation where the default state seems to be overriding existing baskets when a new basket is created, rather than asking the user what they want to do.

The biggest fail is the lack of investment in adaptive techniques on new shiny responsive sites. Just because a site is built on a responsive code base shouldn’t preclude using adaptive design to customise the mobile experience based on device relevant browsing journeys.

I do think retailers in general are getting smarter at using mobile technology for marketing. We’ve seen innovations like House of Fraser’s beacon-enabled mannequins and immersive window displays at Selfridges that interact with smart devices.

Matthew Curry:

I think, at least for most of this year, retailers are less 'hung up' about the technical aspect of mobile.

You're seeing less of the tiresome native app vs. site arguments, and less interest in 'how it's done'.

We're starting to think more about what's right for that customer, where that customer is, at the specific time - that context trumps device, which is a much healthier way of approaching it.

Dan Barker:

It’s a broad question, and there are lots of specific cases within it. I think that they’re getting better, but most could still improve.

Schuh did really well this year – they are lucky to have the excellent Stuart McMillan working for them, and did a great job of getting stuff extremely fast on mobile.

The user experience 'gets out of the way' very well, and they also joining up the stores and distribution centre immensely well.

Some are very sad. I remember doing some user tests on the new Marks & Spencer site, and finding that the women’s dresses size guide did not work on mobile.

It had a bit of a disaster around losing lots of customers accounts as part of the migration, which also doesn't help on a phone. Getting someone to sign up on a phone is much harder than getting someone who's already signed up to buy from you.

Secret Escapes is another site that does it really nicely, particularly the homepage, which, along with content pages from social, is more important for ‘new’ potential customers on mobile than it is on desktop.

Here are three really easy things you can do if you’re looking to improve your mobile experience:

  1. Whatever you do, do not conflate ‘mobile’ and ‘tablet’ when looking at your numbers, or when designing things.

    They’re very different, and tablet is most definitely closer to laptop/desktop experience than it is to a phone.

  2. Get a few user tests done on your and your competitors’ sites on phones, and pick apart all of the nasty elements to remove from the experience.

    It’s easy to do this with usertesting.com, or by buying a ‘Mr Tappy’ mobile device rig for filming user tests yourself.

    I did a lot of this for people over the last year and it's amazing how much you learn - it's like user testing on the web was 10 years ago, some peoples' behaviour is still very surprising, and there are still some big gems that you can apply to sites (mobile optimised or not) and improve things.

  3. From a data point of view, take a look at conversion at a ‘user’ level on mobile rather than ‘session’ level. People are a bit less likely to delete cookies on their phones which helps. And do split out the channels. Email response on a phone is very different to general web browsing.

For more on mobile, see our Mobile Web Design and Development Best Practice Guide, which looks in detail at mobile site design and development. 

Graham Charlton

Published 6 January, 2015 by Graham Charlton

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

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Comments (9)

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Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Very good article, and I totally agree with the action points. In line with #3, we put a lot of work into tracking activity at the 'user' level rather than the 'session' level, so as to e.g. not send abandonment emails when someone puts down their phone and picks up their tablet.

But the highlight for me is buried. If you look very closely at the Google Analytics report screenshot, you'll see:

Mobile excluding tablet % of visits: 11.55%

This is the sort of proportion that I see too, across our client base, despite all the articles claiming "customers use mobile more often than desktops to visit retail sites", such as:
http://internetretailing.net/2014/09/tipping-point-as-customers-use-mobile-more-often-than-desktops-to-visit-retail-sites-imrg/

over 3 years ago

Stuart McMillan

Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh

@Pete, are you saying you see <20% of sessions coming from mobile (excluding tablet)? This is quite far from what we see.

over 3 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Yes. The main issue is how you treat tablets. Like the author of this blog post, I see them as laptop replacements, while the organizations producing large percentage numbers for mobile useage lump them in with phones.

To give some idea of the size of this issue, while sessions and sales are not exactly equivalent, the Guardian's article about the report I linked to above says, "Of sales completed on a mobile device, smartphones account for around 18% and tablets 82%"
http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/sep/02/online-shopping-mobiles-overtakes-desktop

It's likely that usage varies by market sector, and I note your comment, so I guess I'm going to have to run the data. :-( I'll write a blog post and link it from here when I do.

over 3 years ago

Stuart McMillan

Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh

I've just tweeted a graph of our traffic split by device for 2014, mobile excludes tablet. We definitely don't conflate tablet with smartphone.

over 3 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Shuh is a fashion brand, so just taking a quick look at our data for your sector...
Average visits for all fashion retailers: mobile=22%, tablet=22%, other=56%
Fashion site with lowest mobile users: mobile=5%
Fashion site with highest mobile users: mobile=40%

I was very surprised at the variation! I'd expect fashion to be at the high end for mobile use and something like home&garden to be much lower, so we'll see whether 11.55% is indeed a typical value for mobile sessions, when I do some more detailed analysis across all sectors.

over 3 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Shuh is showing mobile=46%, tablet=22%, other=32% (approx). So that's off the scale! Must be something about shoes that makes customers mobile.

over 3 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

Schuh, sorry.

over 3 years ago

Stuart McMillan

Stuart McMillan, Deputy Head of Ecommerce at Schuh

Demographics and multi-channel offering both tip the mobile scale, but we have also worked hard on our mobile offer (for example site speed and UX), hopefully we're seeing the reward of better SEO and more returning customers

over 3 years ago

Philip Wilkinson

Philip Wilkinson, Angel Investor / Entrepreneur at Misc.

Most interesting question is how people get to the Schu site via a mobile device. Are people doing a Google search on their phone first, remembering the brand name, or have an app / icon installed on their phone as the trigger....?

over 3 years ago

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