A new m-commerce benchmark study rates the ASOS mobile website, which we reviewed last year, as the best among those of 16 UK retailers.
This is the verdict of eDigital Research's latest mCommerce Benchmark study, which uses mystery shopper surveys to assess the customer experience for websites viewed on smartphones.
ASOS narrowly beats M&S, and Play.com's non-mobile site to achieve the highest score, while Waitrose's non-mobile commerce site comes last...
Issues with the study
Though the survey contains some useful findings, and some valuable insight into what people want from mobile retail sites, it could be improved.
Here are four problems with the study in its current form:
Some good mobile sites excluded from the study
Some well designed mobile sites have been excluded from the study in favour of some which haven't even been designed for mobile.
For example, eBay is a great example of a mobile commerce site, and though it appeared in earlier studies, it is absent here.
The surveyors in the study were instructed to ignore apps, and just look at the websites of the 16 retailers in the study.
So, for example, though Next has a pretty good mobile app, the 'mystery shoppers' judged the retailer's m-commerce offering by using a site that hasn't been optimised for mobile.
There are some very good reasons to choose to develop a mobile commerce site rather than an app, but apps still play a big part in mobile commerce.
Is it fair to compare optimised against non-optimised sites?
Of the 16 retailers in the study, 11 are dedicated mobile sites, and five just the regular desktop version.
It seems obvious that a site that has been optimised for mobile will perform better in such a study than a desktop version viewed on the small screen, so I'm not sure why the latter are included in the study.
Having said that, Play.com's non-optimised site managed to get third place, though I'm not entirely sure why. I've looked at this before and the checkout process alone, which is long and fiddly on mobile, would be enough to deter many shoppers.
Not all of the sites are transactional
On at least two of these sites, Comet and Waitrose, people cannot actually make a purchase, so it could be said they are not proper mobile commerce sites.
This means they cannot be assessed properly in the purchase section. It's no wonder Comet receives the lowest score of 66.7% here.
I think it would be far more valuable to have 16 mobile optimised and transactional sites studied, so we can compare best practices for mobile checkouts.
What does ASOS do well on mobile?
Reservations aside, the website that has been picked as the best is certainly a great example of how to do mobile commerce well.
The site design and navigation is simple, yet the look matches that of the main website, and it has the same range of products on offer.
ASOS achieved top marks for navigation and product pages, two vital elements in mobile commerce, and scored consistently well across all sections.
The product pages are a great example for other retailers. Product and price information is clear, and multiple images are provided for clothes, all of which can be double-tapped to zoom in:
The site uses tabs to present important information on the product, delivery charges, and returns policies without making product pages too long:
Key takeaways from the study
Mobile homepages are not well liked
The homepage was the worst performing section in the study, though I think many of the issues are due to the limitations of the mobile screen.
In order to keep homepages simple and easy to use, and also to minimise page load times, retailer use fewer images, and the mobile versions often lack the range of product images and promotions that are typical on desktop e-commerce sites.
The top performer in this category was the Kiddicare homepage which, though it still has a simple layout, presents plenty of links and navigation options, as well as a 'deal of the day':
Interflora needs to work on its mobile site
Interflora was actually one of the first retailers in the UK to launch a mobile commerce site (we reviewed it in March 2009), but in the last two years, doesn't seem to have improved the site enough.
Though its business is a great fit for mobile, the florist has performed consistently poorly across the last few surveys, and had the second lowest mark this time. Bizarrely, the mobile site only allows users to purchase one product at a time...
Don't make customers register before purchase (especially on mobile)
Many of the sites that didn't perform so well in the purchase category were those that users felt required too much information from them in order to register on the site before checkout.
Users want detail on product pages
While retailers do need to simplify their websites to work well on mobile, users still need a certain amount of detail to help them make a purchase decision.
This means that product pages should contain all the information that customers are likely to need about a product, as well as multiple zoomable images, and reviews where available.
Provide alternative payment options
Some of the best performers, such as House of Fraser, provided alternative payment options (mainly PayPal) on their mobile sites.
Data entry can be a pain on mobile, and if users have a PayPal account, all they have to do is enter an email address and password to make a payment, since their address and payment details are already saved.
This avoids the need to enter address and payment details and makes the process as simple as possible for mobile shoppers.
The full m-commerce benchmark study can be downloaded here, after completing a short survey.