October 1, 2010, 12:31 PM

Up to Speed

(Page 2 of 2)

The retailer is doing something right. A recent measure of its m-commerce site response time and availability, compiled by Gomez for Internet Retailer’s newly released Mobile Commerce Data Book, ranks both of the retailer’s m-commerce sites as above average. 4Luggage’s response time averaged 4.6 seconds and DiscountGolfWorld’s came in at 3.31 seconds, better than the average of 5 seconds for all 70 m-commerce sites measured. For availability, 4Luggage posted 97.93% uptime and DiscountGolfWorld 99.78% compared with the average of 96.36% for all sites.

Testing, testing

Other vendors see a bull’s-eye in offering services to help mobile merchants add rich content to their sites.

A new feature from Easy2 Technologies Inc., for example, aims to help merchants incorporate videos, 360-degree imagery and interactive image galleries on mobile commerce sites.

The functionality, launched in July, is designed with mobile constraints in mind. For example, if a video is 600 pixels wide, too big for a typical smartphone screen, the company optimizes the video to 200 pixels wide. Or if an image is too big to load quickly, it compresses it. Most important, it avoids using Flash for any rich media applications, as the iPhone and early versions of Android phones do not support the technology, which is often used to display online video.

Testing how such rich media perform, however, is also an issue with mobile phones because many of them are not adept at processing JavaScript, which is often used for detecting the speed at which web sites operate.

Many analytics packages rely on embedding JavaScript calls on a web site, Barneys’ Holberg says. When a user visits a page, JavaScript returns information about that user’s session—such as pages being viewed and cart information—to the analytics provider’s server. Unfortunately, he says, lots of mobile devices don’t play well with this technology.

“One of the biggest problems with mobile phones is their varying inabilities to run JavaScript,” Holberg says. Because of this, Holberg spends considerable time analyzing error logs in the Demandware system to detect possible issues, such as problems with custom coding a programmer may have inserted.

Help is on the way. Google offers a beta version of its Google Analytics for Mobile package that contains tracking code for mobile sites using several common programming languages, allowing tracking of mobile sites on phones that do not support JavaScript, Google says. Keynote Systems Inc. also offers a beta version of its mobile testing tool called Mobile Internet Testing Environment 2.0. Keynote, which plans to roll out the feature in the fall, says the tool will be able to test how a site performs on more than 1,600 mobile devices.

Where do you come from?

But technology is not the only answer. Managing consumer expectations can also improve satisfaction with mobile sites.

For instance, Baird suggests that retailers set on offering a rich mobile experience direct a shopper to a mobile app if the retailer offers an app that works with that consumer’s smartphone.

“Don’t be afraid to say to a visitor, ‘I see you’re an iPhone user, why don’t you download our iPhone app,’” she says.

Retailers can figure out that a shopper is visiting from an iPhone by looking at something called the user agent, a unique HTML string that identifies the browser connecting with a retailer’s server.

That enables the retailer to tailor the content it offers to the phone the consumer is using, says Vidya Drego, senior customer experience analyst at Forrester Research Inc. For example, a retailer can employ more touchscreen options and graphics when the user agent shows a consumer is coming from a sophisticated iPhone, but keep sites more simple for an older BlackBerry.

The user agent data also can help retailers determine how much data to include in each interaction between the phone and the retailer’s host server, Drego says. For example, a single server call for a phone using Google’s Android operating system could show several product results with images and text, while one for a slower-processing BlackBerry could be pared down.

As retailers work to improve mobile site performance, they can appease visitors in the interim with better communication. When Barneys returns mobile search results, for example, it tells shoppers the number of items it is returning before all the images load. That way, a young woman knows the wait for red pumps is taking awhile because there are 75 varieties.

Drego suggests offering constant status updates. A good example is the mobile site for travel site Kayak.com, Drego says, which uses a progress bar to show how far along it is in returning results for flights and hotels. Another tip: Design pages so that the most crucial information, such as prices and product details, loads first. “Don’t put the most important information in some complex graphic or table that will take several seconds to display,” she says.

Tips like that can help retailers design mobile sites that will load quickly today, and position them to deliver even better performance as mobile technology continues its steady advance.

katie@verticalwebmedia.com

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