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Why shopping on a mobile sucks

09 Feb 2016

The speed at which mobile devices have taken over has caught many retail businesses by surprise. Business owners tend to be genuinely surprised to learn that mobile devices count on average for 30-50% of all traffic to their online store. Perhaps that's why IBM for the second year has published that conversion rates for mobile devices are about half the rate which converts on a desktop.

Except it's not.

The biggest reason why the conversion rates are halved is because more often than not, it actually sucks trying to use a mobile to buy anything online. And the reason for this is because instead of seeing mobile devices as a new platform and designing for the best user experience on it, many online stores treat mobiles like a smaller space and simply re-arrange a desktop version's content to fit. What gets forgotten is that any flaws which can be overlooked due to space and context on a desktop, quickly come to light and can actually stop sales on mobile devices.

The first reason why mobiles suck with online shopping hits your customer as soon as they try and find products to purchase.

Desktop category navigation is unsuitable on mobiles

Category navigation can be offered via the standard tap to see what's available approach or through a filtered view. As the name suggests, tapping to see what's available involves showing a customer a list of available categories and when they select one they are typically then shown the available sub-categories to pick from. The idea behind this approach is that it allows a customer to drill down quite specifically into their area of interest before they are shown the available products - the upside being that because they are shown a smaller range of products they are less likely to feel overwhelmed and more likely to find what they are looking for. The biggest downside on mobile is that it forces your customers to progress through a lot of taps before they can even see what your store offers and they can very easily miss seeing products which they are interested in simply because they are stored under other sub-categories which weren't browsed.

A filtered view shows your customer all available products and they are able to tap into sub-categories which updates the available products shown on screen. The upside is that your customers are exposed to more of your products and are able to access them a lot faster. But the downside on mobile is loading your product catalogue repeatedly especially if it is large, over a 3G/4G network can cause your online store to appear slow and sluggish and this can frustrate your customer.

The solution is to stop thinking of category navigation as an either or approach; mobile navigation works best when it a combination of both approaches. Allow your customers to select their primary category of interest (as this instantly narrows down the product choices while still keeping the options broad enough to allow for exposure). Provide sub-category filtering via the site's main navigation in a way that allows a customer to tap as far as they wish to go down the sub-category chain and provide an option to see the available results at every step. Make sure that you provide filtered search options in a way that makes sense.

Mobile search doesn't return the results your customers are expecting

If your customers have already taken steps to enter their preferred category or sub-category, then it isn't surprising that more than 50% of them expect when they use the search feature that it will return results from the category they are in. Yet 94% of mobile online stores don't offer this as a choice and instead return results from a site-wide search.

Combine this with the fact that often site-wide searches return results which are irrelevant to what the customer is looking for because they are searching for keywords without applying any kind of thought as to the products themselves, and you can see why searching for products on your mobile device quickly becomes annoying and/or next to impossible.

The solution is to look at how your search system has been built. There needs to be 'smarts' built into it so that it can weigh up different products and work out how to rank the ones with higher benefit to your customer at the top of the list. There also needs to be a way for your customer to choose where their search is being performed.

The checkout process is onerous and confusing

The fastest way to ensure your customers don't complete their purchases is to have a checkout process which is seriously flawed. Often these flaws come creeping in because in an effort to declutter a checkout process for a smaller screen space too much information is removed which leaves customers confused and ready to leave. For instance offering shipping options by name only without any indication of what each option costs - in fact it is believed that up to one third of mobile online stores don't provide their customers with the total cost for their order until after they have entered all of their information and their credit card details!

Often with mobile checkouts it's the little things which make the most difference - for instance:

  • DO remember to hide fields which are only required to be filled out if your customer selects that option (for instance deliver my order elsewhere - these extra fields should only be shown if your customer actually wants their order to go elsewhere)
  • DON'T ask your customers to pick what type of credit card they are using. Your site should be set to auto-detect this based off the card number which is entered.
  • DO ensure that mandatory fields are clearly marked as such.
  • DO make sure that error messages are clear and easily understood. For instance "Please enter a 7 digit phone number" isn't helpful when that's what the customer has done instead try "Please enter a 7 digit phone number without spaces, brackets, dots or dashes".
  • DO consider using an address validator so your customers can select their address much faster. Remember to provide the option for them to edit that address in case of issues.
  • DO remember to check your website on a mobile in landscape mode. Quite often this view is overlooked and can result in keyboards being allowed to take up almost 50% of the available screen space.