Are retailers missing the mark on m-commerce?

A photograph of a hand holding a mobile phone, with a sad face drawn on it in yellow.

Image by Ron Bennetts, made available via CC BY-ND 2.0

With the increasing dominance of mobile across all industries, business owners and influencers in every sector from retail to finance are making developing their mobile experience a top priority.

But a new report by PointSource into ‘The State of the Mobile Experience’ has indicated that few are happy with the results.

The study, which surveyed nearly 300 key influencers and decision makers across retail, insurance, finance and supply chain industries, found that although nine in 10 companies have a mobile website, and eight in 10 have a mobile app, fewer than one in five respondents rated their mobile presence as “excellent”.

In retail in particular, only 37% of respondents to the survey rated their mobile presence as a nine or above, on a scale of one to 10. The report also revealed several areas in which retailers are missing opportunities to enhance the user experience on mobile, track customer behaviour, and implement features that would help to engage and retain mobile customers.

So why are retailers still missing the mark with their mobile presence, and what can they do to improve?

A photograph of a colourful clothing store.Image by Findio, available via CC BY-SA 3.0

Successes and failures

The report by PointSource found that retail is streaks ahead of other industries in some areas of mobile, such as strategy planning and implementation. 91% of retail companies surveyed reported having a dedicated mobile site, with 84% offering a mobile app. 77% of retail decision makers also rated their mobile presence as seven or higher on a 10 point scale.

“It is no surprise a consumer-dependent field such as retail would be attuned to shoppers’ growing preference for mobile,” writes the report.

“However, while retailers have done well thus far to implement mobile technologies ahead of the curve, there is much they can still do to embrace the next level of mobile capabilities, especially as related to improving the user experience.”

‘The State of the Mobile Experience’ also highlights some key pain points for the retail industry when it comes to mobile, the most common of which are a result of poor design or IT infrastructure. Of the respondents with an existing mobile presence:

  • 48% listed slow page loading times as a recurring issue
  • 31% said that customers were having difficulties navigating on mobile
  • 28% said that a malfunctioning app or website is a pain point for mobile customers
  • 27% said that their customers are currently unable to pay via mobile

A column graph showing survey responses to the question "Which of the following are mobile pain points for your customers?" The responses were slow page load times (48%), difficult to navigate site or app (31%), malfunctioning app or website (28%), smaller images/videos (28%), not being able to pay via mobile (27%), none of the above (16%) or I don't know (4%).

This becomes less surprising when you discover that 42% of the respondents to the study said that their company’s biggest challenge to executing a successful mobile strategy was uniting marketing and IT departments.

Clearly, although companies have recognised mobile as a key focus point for the future and are making an investment in a mobile presence, they aren’t carrying out the internal restructuring that is needed to properly support a mobile-first strategy. Too many businesses still see IT as an area to be kept separate from other parts of the company, instead of something which needs to be integrated throughout.

Similarly, over half of respondents – 54% – said that their biggest challenge was integrating mobile strategy into overall marketing strategy: another fundamental step that needs to be taken before companies can be truly mobile-first.

Other challenges that were highlighted by respondents were a lack of internal resources (24%), insufficient budget for carrying out a successful mobile strategy (20%), lack of internal support for mobile from management (18%) and being unsure what a successful mobile strategy would look like (17%).

A series of pie charts showing survey responses to the question "What are your company's biggest challenges in executing a successful mobile strategy?"

The intent to be mobile-first and mobile-focused is definitely all there with retailers. But where retail companies are falling down is providing the right internal resources and support to really see a mobile strategy through.

Missed opportunities

The report also found that retailers are currently failing to take advantage some of mobile’s unique characteristics, such as delivering content to loyal users or personalising features using geolocation, to enhance their mobile experience.

A retailer’s mobile presence shouldn’t just be a smaller, stripped-down and portable version of their desktop presence: to really succeed on mobile, retailers should be taking advantage of what makes mobile unique, and using it to create a fundamentally different experience.

As Salvador Carrillo, CEO of Mobile Dreams Factory, writes in the ClickZ Intelligence report, ‘The DNA of a Great M-Commerce Site’:

“There are two common mistakes in m-commerce:

  1. Designing a mobile UX by reducing what’s on the desktop site. Mobile First is mobile first. If you have or will have more traffic in mobile, start designing in mobile.
  2. Responsive web is not simply about designing a liquid or adaptive multi-device site. You have to create a totally different experience in mobile.

Be clear that consumer behaviour is different in mobile, so everything is about UX and design – fewer clicks, prioritised search, short description, click to buy etc. The more frictionless the experience (payments, confirmations, refill, and so on), the more conversions.”


An image of a stick person holding a mobile phone with the words "I want to..." underneath. To the right is a list of 16 options for things the mobile user might do, such as "Send a text message", "Watch a video", "Check the weather", "Call Mom" and "Listen to a song." At the bottom is a credit to Google Search Quality Guidelines.Consumer behaviour on mobile is fundamentally different to desktop

The research by PointSource showed that although mobile devices can deliver valuable content to loyal users, only 40% of respondents with an existing mobile presence currently use a loyalty app to engage with customers; and only 43% track any loyalty metrics at all.

Only 34% of retailers surveyed are making use of push notifications, while in-store geolocation technology was ranked as the least-used form of engagement with consumers at just 22%. This is in spite of the fact that 61% of retailers who do use location-based notifications say that it is contributing to positive results with user engagement.

And retailers could also be doing a lot more to track customer behaviour and learn from it in order to improve the experience on mobile. This more than anything will tell retailers what customers are using mobile for, how they are carrying out purchases and how well certain features on mobile are working (or not) – which is crucial for deciding where to go with a mobile strategy.

A series of pie charts showing survey responses to the question "Which of the following metrics are you currently tracking in your mobile experience?"

Yet more than a third of respondents in retail do not track purchasing history on mobile, more than half don’t track any loyalty metrics and nearly two thirds don’t track app opens. When it comes to purchasing behaviours like cart size or time of day, a full 71% of respondents with an existing mobile presence do not track either via mobile.

With that said, the desire is there; 51% of retailers in the report said that they wished they could track purchase history on mobile, with 37% wishing they could track loyalty metrics, 36% wanting to track app opens, and 35% wanting to track geolocation.

A series of pie charts showing survey responses to the question "Which metric do you wish you could track in your mobile experience?"

Hopefully retailers can go on to implement these features as a priority – provided they aren’t being held back by issues like internal structuring and funding that we looked at earlier on.

How can retailers improve their mobile presence?

‘The State of the Mobile Experience’ advises retailers who want to improve the user experience on mobile to embrace the next wave of mobile capabilities – things like push notifications, loyalty apps, geolocation technology and coupons.

“As consumers become more comfortable shopping online, they are demanding the next generation of capabilities and features to enhance their sales experience. Retailers have done well to invest in mobile strategies first, but this dominance will quickly falter if retail companies do not push forward now.”

It also advises that the best mobile strategy is 360 degrees – that is, integrated and all-encompassing.

“E-commerce has become the norm, but retailers would be remiss to forget about the in-store experience. The strongest mobile solutions can link online and in-store information and equip their employees to use their sales data no matter where they may be.”

This would involve implementing features which bridge the gap between digital and brick-and-mortar, such as allowing customers to shop online and collect in-store; combining information gathered online and offline to provide a joined-up overview of customer shopping behaviour; and using technology like beacons and near-field communication to target customers shopping in-store via their mobile devices.

A photograph of a jeans display in a shop, showing a hand holding up a phone in front of a pair of jeans, with the same pair of jeans displayed on the phone screen.

Above all, though, it falls to companies to recognise that mobile isn’t the responsibility of any one department, like marketing or IT, but something which can only succeed through making use of skills and resources across all areas of the business.

As Daniel Rowles, CEO of Target Internet, writes in ‘The DNA of a Great M-Commerce Site’:

“Mobile or digital projects, as a whole, do not fail because mobile or digital itself is inherently challenging or complicated. They fail because the company isn’t prepared for the organisational changes necessary to make the project successful.

The problem usually lies with ‘capability’ issues, including management buy-in, sufficient allocation of resources, team skills and the most common problem: infrastructure issues. These are IT-related issues such as integrating systems, along with inappropriate provision for data management and content management. Resource allocation isn’t just about ensuring you have the correct IT or digital team, it’s making sure there’s someone to respond to tweets etc.”

For loads more information on how to make your m-commerce project a success, get hold of the ClickZ Intelligence report, ‘The DNA of a Great M-Commerce Site Part 1: Planning’, or download a free sample.

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