e-Commerce performance: Are tablets a bitter pill?

Date: 21st October 2014
Author: Deri Jones

Make your site work for the growing mobile opportunity

It has been touted as fact for a while, but it may not necessarily have been true. Today though, we can finally say with authority that mobile devices are the preferred choice for accessing websites.

Findings in latest IMRG Capgemini Quarterly Benchmarking Report has pointed to the fact that using mobile devices accounted for 52% of website visits.

mobile ecommerce image

Well I suppose that figure is not really a shock, but the actual sales via smartphones and tablets make more interesting reading. The research indicated that the tablet was fast becoming the weapon of choice for shoppers. Of a total of £24.2 billion spent online over the 3 months of May, June and July, a rather large £8.7 billion was purchased via these mobile devices and over 80% of these sales originated from tablets! The popularity of tablets and smartphones is set to continue, so these sales figures will likely increase. Even so, today, no company wants to miss out on a third of the market spend – for some reason, clothing has an even higher percentage of “mobile sales” at around 40%. It may seem a simple enough task, but there are challenges to face to ensure your web presence is mobile friendly.

Many companies use an older approach, opting for separate websites for mobile users and for regular users. The former often showing just link buttons with little graphic content. Seeing the address ‘m.company.com’ is the dead giveaway to the mobile site,  and the approach has drawbacks including SEO. Responsive web design (RWD) is becoming more common. RWD makes visited pages work for the smaller screen, by clever rescaling . Today things are not as clear cut as they once were, as there is even more choice today with computer tablets having screens sizes that sit between the smartphone and full screen of a computer. So RWD pages can be complex,which brings with it the scope for more problems too.

The e-commerce marketing department is now faced with the “less is more dilemma”, as the designs and content they took for granted on the larger screens just will not work on the smaller access devices. In response they have reworked the content to accommodate the preference for mobile devices. They had to.

So that’s it, everything is hunky dory then? Not exactly, as all the little changes increase the risk of small flaws going unseen that can lead to slow, broken or even incomplete web pages for customers to trip over.

Subtle flaws, for example a missing price for gloves, under the sub category ‘gloves and mittens’, found within the accessories section of women’s wear…but only when viewed via an iPad. Such an error may not be picked up for days, weeks or even at all. The customer gets frustrated or treats it as unavailable and because the flaw only affects one type of device it may never get picked up! The marketing department are at a loss as to why those gloves were not the best seller they thought they would be. I have used iPad as an example, and some may say that is just one small market. Well with nearly a third of the tablet market, if you work the figures above it will show you may be missing out on a potential 10% of all online sales! If the flaw was specific to android-based devices then we could be talking of over 20% of potential sales.

Most retailers say they are checking for such problems, but in reality they are not covering it enough. Not nearly enough. We have heard it too many times, “the IT department are monitoring the website”. The problem is they have much more to do than to run customer journeys trying to find any problems.

The number of departments, the number of sub-categories and the sheer number of products mean the total number of possible journeys is astronomical. With customers choice for mobile devices are each of the pages optimised for their preferred viewing device? It is therefore more important than ever to have 24/7 automated monitoring regime, testing all possible customer journeys and flagging up instantly when a fault is found. Testing need not slow the site either, as it can be set to pace itself 24/7 – flagging up issues before they become a customer problem.

The tablet market is becoming more fragmented, with more manufacturers entering it, and therefore potentially more hurdles to overcome for successful e-commerce. The only way a company can ensure they are delivering what they set out to achieve is to outsource its monitoring and receive ongoing reports. Proactive reporting ensures the business teams  can concentrate on its core business of selling, confident that should any technology bug impact user experience it will be immediately flagged.