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As the smartphone penetration rate creeps above 50% in the UK, a mobile-optimised site is now a necessity for retailers.
A majority of major brands now have a mobile offering, but often they make simple design mistakes that put customers off making a purchase.
The checkout process on mobile can be a major barrier to purchase, and many mobile sites could improve on this.
To find out which retailers are doing most to optimise mobile checkouts, I evaluated the top 20 online retailers’ checkouts using an Android smartphone.
How many have mobile sites?
Of the 20 online retailers studied, just 12 offer a mobile optimised site for visitors. Since mobile commerce has been around long enough to show that it is a valuable and essential channel for any online retailer, this is surprising.
Also, the 20 sites studied here are some of the most popular in the UK, so not having a mobile site represents a missed opportunity. Sure, some have apps, but they are missing out on mobile search traffic, which continues to grow.
The travel sites in this list are least likely to have mobile sites (or apps), and this is a sector which needs to wise up to mobile. Last year, 17% of consumers researched holidays using mobile, a trend which is set to continue.
Registration before checkout
Making customers register before checkout is a proven barrier to purchase. This is widely understood for desktop sites, and many now have guest checkout options instead.
However, this best practice hasn't always transferred to mobile sites. Just five of the retailers with mobile sites have made registration optional.
Removing compulsory registration means less hassle for the customer, one less page to load, and a smoother checkout.
Filling in checkout forms and entering payment details can be a fiddly process on a mobile phone. Speed is vital, and anything that makes the process quicker will mean more sales.
Mobile conversion rates are much lower than those on tablets and desktop sites, and smoother checkouts are one way to improve them.
Form filling should be kept to a minimum, as should page loads within the checkout process. Also, by adding shortcuts like postcode lookup and pre-populating billing addresses, you can speed it up.
Contact details and security reassurances
Some people are still wary of the security of mobile transactions, so offering trustmarks and reassuring signs like clear contact numbers can help.
Also, if a customer gets stuck trying to make a purchase, a clear contact number may just save the sale.
Even with the smoothest checkout process, entering credit or debit card details can be a pain. Offering alternatives like PayPal can mean a faster process (generally just entering an email and password) and may also ease consumers' security worries.
With these criteria in mind, I've looked at 20 top retailers to see how they handle mobile checkout:
Amazon has been well ahead of the game with mobile, and offers a range of apps and sites to appeal to mobile customers.
It does require registration before purchase, but Amazon gets away with this more than others might, as so many people have an account already. In fact, this fact, combined with saved details and ease of repeat purchase, means Amazon's mobile sales are measured in the billions.
Amazon also ensures that page sizes are kept to a minimum to speed the site up so it loads quickly even on a variable 3G connection.
However, it doesn't go in for security reassurances or contact numbers, nor does it offer alternative payment options.
Though Argos has a mobile site, it isn’t transactional. Instead customers have to go to a desktop site or phone the call centre to complete the purchase.
You can, however, reserve in-store through the mobile site. This has been successful for Argos, but I am puzzled that it hasn't launched a transactional mobile site.
Surprisingly, Apple doesn’t even have a mobile optimised site, though it does have an app, for iPhone of course.
Not only does Tesco's mobile site force you to register, but after I had entered the required details it kicked me out of the checkout process.
When I went back to the basket I was still logged in and the contents were there, but it was an unnecessary annoyance.
Tesco's mobile checkout does have a progress indicator. Customers like to know how many stages are left in the checkout process, and this can also be used as a way for users to skip back in case they need to alter anything.
Form-filling is an area where Tesco could improve. For instance, while the information required on each form is fairly basic, you are presented with a large number of forms to fill in.
Furthermore, the information fields are quite small and fiddly to select. To make matters worse, it doesn't offer shortcuts which would reduce the workload for shoppers.
More work for consumers = higher abandonment rates.
Next has a mobile site, but does make registration compulsory. In addition, since it offers credit accounts, it may be confusing for the first time customer looking to pay by card.
Form filling could be better, as Next wants to know everything about you, even your date of birth.
While the overall checkout process is quick, there are a couple of annoying features on Next’s site. Firstly, you are offered a slightly cheaper rate of postage if you agree to receive their catalogue.
Next’s catalogue is massive, so as an online customer I find it annoying to be incentivised to order one. Furthermore, there is a box to tick if you do NOT wish to receive sale and other information relating to Next.
However, if you tick the box the site makes you choose how you wish to receive Next's marketing blurb.
I think this box should say ‘tick if you DO want information.’
Bizarrely for an online only retailer, Play does not have a mobile site.
As on the desktop site, you are forced to create an account to buy from the M&S mobile site. For a retailer which provides an excellent user experience in general, this is one area in which it could improve.
In addition, users are required to put in far too much information during the checkout process, even their date of birth.
It also requires you to re-enter the same information twice when registering your account and making the purchase. Another annoyance is the tick boxes. They are so small and close together it is difficult to work out what you are agreeing to.
On a more positive note, M&S does have a postcode finder for your address and also assumes billing and delivery addresses are the same, while pages are simple and quick to load.
Although it says you can register later, it still immediately asks for your email address. The site has a progress indicator, and there are just three steps to purchase. John Lewis only asks for basic customer information, so the process is very quick.
John Lewis offers a really slick mobile checkout. It’s quick and easy to use, with very few steps before the purchase is complete.
ASOS is another retailer that needs to know everything about you. It even asks for your date of birth and gender.
However, this is a fast and easy to use mobile site, and ASOS is one of only two of the top 20 retailers that accept PayPal.
Debenhams allows guest registration, and forms only require basic information, so the process is very convenient.
It offers a postcode finder and assumes the same address for billing and delivery and its pages are short and quick to load.
Overall, Debenhams offers one of the slicker checkout processes.
Thomson doesn’t have a mobile site.
While Expedia does have a mobile site, it doesn't offer comparable products to many of the other retailers in this list.
For example, to book a hotel room Expedia just needs your name, phone number and email, then a credit card and billing address. It’s all done on one page and is extremely easy, but isn’t comparable to other e-tailers.
EasyJet doesn’t have a mobile site, instead it tries to direct users to download its app.
Though electrical competitors like Comet and even Argos and Amazon have mobile sites and apps, Currys and the other DSG brands have neither. Which is odd.
As with Tesco Groceries, you have to create an account. Tesco Direct asks for a lot of personal data, including both daytime and evening telephone numbers. It also uses tiny tick boxes that are not easy to click.
On the plus side however, it offers a useful drop down list of delivery instructions, such as ‘leave with neighbour’ or ‘it may take me a while to get to the door’.
Another travel brand with no mobile site.
LoveFilm has an app, but no mobile website.
Topshop allows guest registration, and checkout is extremely fast and only requires delivery address and card details. It also offers the option to save your details if you subsequently choose to create an account, this providing the best of both worlds.
Pages are extremely short and quick to load, and this is the only site that pulls up a numerical keypad for entering your phone number rather than the normal keyboard. This means you get bigger numbers and makes entering phone details much easier.
Due to the limited amount of information it asks for, in my opinion Topshop offers the most convenient mobile checkout of all the retailers in the top 20.
B&Q has a guest checkout option, keeps form filling down, and pages load quickly. A very good mobile site.
On New Look, you can use a guest checkout also allows you to save information for future use should you then choose to register an account.
There are only two steps in the checkout process, one for personal and delivery information and one for payments details, meaning fewer page loads.
New Look also accepts PayPal.
New Look offers a very quick, convenient mobile checkout but, bizarrely, I was offered an iPhone mobile app when I logged onto the site, even though I have an Android phone.
It is surprising to see Currys, Play.com and Apple on the list of those without mobile sites, while those that currently offer apps only should consider the benefits of a mobile site.
Encouragingly, the UK’s top consumer retailers generally score well on their mobile checkout procedures. All of them were quick to load and simple to fill in, with most offering shortcuts such as postcode lookup.
The most common annoyance is forcing customers to create an account before they can checkout. John Lewis, Topshop, B&Q, Expedia and New Look are the only sites that allow guest registration and it makes the process noticeably quicker.
Topshop stands out as the most convenient mobile checkout, largely due to its quick guest registration process.
Other common problems were lack of security reassurances, contact numbers or alternative payment options, while only ASOS and New Look accept PayPal, with the others only taking debit or credit cards.
Overall the mobile checkouts were generally fast and easy to use, but most could do with a few minor tweaks to make the process more user-friendly.