UK consumers are incredibly web savvy these days. After 15 years of e-commerce, there is zero tolerance for sites that don’t deliver a near perfect experience and, with competitors a click away, ebusinesses have never had to work so hard to keep our custom. 

But this intolerance has built up over a number of years; it wasn’t like this in the early years of the internet.

So you’d be forgiven for thinking that consumers would continue to have similarly low expectations for the latest new digital trends like mobile.

Last month, we released some research looking at how UK consumers are using mobile devices to conduct transactions. The findings show that mobile e-commerce is experiencing a surge in popularity.

10m online consumers in the UK said they have conducted a transaction using a mobile device in the last year. However, in what should be a convenient and simple way to shop, 83% of these consumers experienced problems when they attempted to complete their mobile transactions.

While this is perhaps not surprising for such a young channel, the reaction of consumers is startling., The vast majority (75%) of online adult consumers believe that there is no excuse for a mobile transaction not completing on the first attempt.

But the surprising statistics don’t stop there. The majority of mobile consumers actually said that conducting a mobile transaction should yield a better shopping experience than making the same purchase in store (51%) or at a computer (52%).

In my mind, there are two fundamental reasons for this increased intolerance.

The first is that consumers see ‘online’ as one channel, regardless of the device they are using. While businesses are eager to have a specific mobile strategy, their customers aren’t compartmentalising in the same way.

E-commerce has been around for 15 years, we are all happy using it and we expect to be able to use it when we like on the device of our choosing. And in some cases, our expectations on mobile devices seem to be higher.

In other words, same business proposition, just a different platform.

The Apple effect

This brings me onto the second main trend that created our high expectations of mobile. This trend has been driven by the company that really accelerated the smartphone craze: Apple.

Watch any advert for the iPhone or iPad. The one thing that stands out is how incredibly easy these devices are to use. Apple has changed the way we think about mobile and has taught us to expect a good user experience on mobile devices.

But this presents a problem for businesses. Their apps or mobile sites (or standard sites on mobile screen) haven’t been developed by Apple. In fact, many of the websites haven’t even been designed with a mobile user in mind.

And the stark differences between the flashy ads and the reality of mobile e-commerce isn’t lost on mobile shoppers, given that 46% say they feel frustrated when they experience problems conducting transactions on a mobile device.

So by piecing these two points together, we can begin to understand why consumer expectations for mobile transactions are so high. Consumers have high expectations of e-commerce in general and are no longer differentiating between the experience they receive on different devices.

Businesses are between a rock and a hard place

The bad news for businesses is that meeting these high expectations will take a lot of hard work. Developing an effective mobile strategy won’t happen overnight.

And while consumers don’t need to understand that e-commerce works in different ways across different devices, businesses must because there is a massive business opportunity.

But the opportunity isn’t the only motivation. Increasingly, we are seeing that consumers are using poor mobile experience as a stick to beat brands with.

Two thirds (66%) of all online adults surveyed said they would be less likely to buy from the same company via other purchase channels if they experienced a problem conducting a transaction on their mobile device. So there is brand reputation issue here too.

The time to act is now

These high consumer expectations mean companies have no time to waste. Businesses have had a long time to get it right online, but with mobile they are not getting any benefit of the doubt.

And the complications aren’t decreasing any time soon. In the last two years it’s been all about smartphones, for the next two it’s going to be tablets. And who knows what will follow after that. Putting in place a platform-proofed strategy for the short and long term will be vital.

Mobile is still a young, developing digital trend, but consumers don’t see it like this. Therefore businesses have to be ready to meet these short term expectations while also ensuring they are nimble and flexible enough to cope with the long term curveballs that will inevitably come their way. The rewards for those that manage it will be plentiful.

Geoff Galat

Published 17 May, 2011 by Geoff Galat

Geoff Galat is Worldwide VP of Marketing at IBM Tealeaf and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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Comments (4)


Ashish Kumar

Nice post!!!

over 7 years ago


Zeena Bushnaq

Great post! I agree with it all! It's hard for companies to make sure that any device is compatible especially with the growing number of smart phones and tablets with different browsers, and the customers lack of knowledge of how things work only makes our job harder! My advice, take it one step at a time, do it perfectly the first time around for one browser/phone and move on to the next. There will always be new devices, and you should be smart to choose which ones to start with. Thanks again!!! Placed it all into perspective for me.

over 7 years ago


Zoe Bosward, Experienced Online Marketing Manager, UK at Job hunting in Derby UK

A failed transaction may also be blamed on the mobile site when it's a bad signal at fault.

over 7 years ago


Shannon DiGregorio

Excellent point made by anonymous. Here in the US AT&T is notorious for poor coverage. I think it's really convergence of mobile and shopping that is highlighting the frustrations shoppers have. I have an iPhone 4, and some apps crash upwards of 50% of the time (Facebook, I'm looking at you.) This is only a mild frustration, but is definitely amplified when a transaction is thrown into the mix. I think mobile commerce providers need to work on both more seamless and intuitive UX, and shoppers need to keep in mind that this is a technology in it's infancy.

over 7 years ago

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