October 1, 2010, 12:04 PM

Intelligent Design

The small screen of a mobile phone requires retailers to craft mobile commerce sites with care.

Mobile commerce in the U.S. is projected to grow to $23.8 billion by 2015 from $2.4 billion in 2010, according to Coda Research. That projected ten-fold rise has retailers in a race to get in on the m-commerce action.

They face many challenges in making it easy to shop on a mobile phone, including design constraints imposed by a small display screen and limited bandwidth. Yet mobile shoppers expect the same kind of robust and intuitive shopping experience they enjoy on their PCs.

Listed below are some usability best practices that can make it easier for shoppers to browse for products and comparison shop on m-commerce sites.

Leverage your brand

Brand experience plays a vital role in consumer psychology because shoppers expect a retailer’s m-commerce site to mirror the branding of its e-commerce site in terms of logo, colors, and look and feel. Branding also has a practical component in that it signals to shoppers immediately that they are on the intended site.

The branding on the Target m-commerce site, for example, is easily recognizable and consistent with the company’s established branding.

Home page essentials

Given the limited screen size, it is essential that m-commerce site home pages prominently display only the most salient features such as a search field, a function for category browsing, and, if applicable, a store locator.

Consumers use search fields located at the top of the screen as they are accustomed to the search box being at the top on e-commerce sites. Additionally, providing a category listing on the home page offers shoppers a quick and easy way to browse and drill down into categories at the outset. For sites with many categories, displaying them all in a drop-down menu reduces the amount of time a shopper would spend loading a second page listing.

Best Buy’s m-commerce site executes this well as illustrated by the screenshots above.

Store locator

Many mobile shoppers are often looking to locate nearby stores. But because the shopper may be in an area she’s not familiar with, it’s important to help her locate a store based on where she is right now. Once a location has been established, the native mapping and GPS features of the device should load the address into the smartphone’s mapping application. This would provide shoppers an interactive map that gives directions from their current location. Shoppers should also be able to locate a store using the traditional methods, such as by entering a ZIP code.

Olive Garden launches store locations in a phone’s mapping application, providing an interactive map that allows users to access directions and manipulate the map’s focus.

Simplify category browsing

Shoppers often begin searching for products through category browsing. They appreciate broadly defined categories and the ability to narrow results.

On some sites shoppers must plow through multiple, narrowly defined choices, such as ballet flats or animal-print shoes, before they can access any product information. On other sites, once the first category is selected, shoppers get a list too long for them to navigate easily on a small screen. As a result, they often must use the search feature, or they abandon the site altogether and move on to a competitor. Category browsing should be limited to a few clicks so shoppers can view products that match their criteria early in the process.

Overstock allows for easy browsing through broad, general categories (see facing page). Best Buy provides a product list after shoppers select a category, but still allows shoppers to continue to narrow their results.

Just the facts

When viewing results of their search or category browsing, shoppers want only the most important and necessary information presented in a clear and concise manner with emphasis on the following:

A brief description of the product, including name, style, manufacturer and any other important details. For example, when shopping for shoes, shoppers would expect to see the color, brand, style and material. A clear image of the product provides shoppers with a visual validation that they have located the right product.

The ability to narrow search results. Mobile shoppers generally enter shorter, less precise search terms. The result is often a list that is too unwieldy to sort through. Instead, shoppers should be able to narrow and refine their results to something they can quickly browse.

Pricing. Since comparison shopping is one of the most common activities of m-commerce shoppers, it is essential to list prices.

Product availability. Some sites indicate if a product is available in the store, online, or both. This is extremely valuable to shoppers when determining whether they should visit a store.

Customer reviews. As on e-commerce sites, shoppers like to view the opinions of other shoppers.

The information listed above is routinely presented on an e-commerce site. But the limited screen size of m-commerce sites requires brief presentations to let shoppers view as many products and as much related content as possible.

Amazon incorporates much of this information in mobile search results with a brief description, image, pricing, user ratings, product availability and even information about special offers.

Product detail page

Multiple images of a product is a key feature for the mobile product detail page, especially for retailers aiming to complete sales via the mobile channel. Images displaying multiple angles of a product give shoppers a better sense of what they can expect, almost as if they were holding the product in their hands. Shoppers will gravitate to sites that offer more and better quality images.

It is also important to present a detailed description of the product. While it is not necessary to display the full description at the outset, as this may occupy too much space, shoppers should at least be able to access product details by clicking a link.

As with the results listings, the product details page should provide a brief product description, pricing, ratings/reviews, and the ability to modify quantity and specifiers like size and color, with a nearby add-to-cart button.

Kenneth Cole provides multiple images, allowing shoppers to see products from all angles.

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