October 20, 2011, 4:19 PM

Only 19% of the top 100 e-retailers’ e-commerce pages have mobile counterparts, study finds

And a lack of redirects to mobile pages spells trouble for conversion.

Bill Siwicki

Managing Editor, Mobile Commerce

Lead Photo

The merchant received a perfect score in a new mobile study by Pure Oxygen Labs.

While many leading e-retailers offer mobile commerce web sites, few offer mobile sites with mobile versions of every e-commerce site page. That is the conclusion of mobile commerce consulting and technology firm Pure Oxygen Labs LLC after it used a new mobile tool it created to access random pages from the e-commerce sites of the top 100 e-retailers in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

Pure Oxygen points to five merchants as exemplary in the field of mobile commerce. At Foot Locker Inc., Lowe’s Cos. Inc. and Recreational Equipment Inc., 100% of a random sample of 100 e-commerce pages have m-commerce counterparts. The figure is 98% for Staples Inc. and 97% for FTD Group Inc. Most e-retailers in the top 100 fell far short, registering percentages in the single digits.

Brian Klais, founder and president of Pure Oxygen, says his firm conducted the research to make a singular point: Smartphone shoppers do not just access an m-commerce site from the home page; they can be directed from various online sources to pages deep in the site. The problem? While most e-retailers with m-commerce sites automatically redirect shoppers on smartphones from the e-commerce home page URL to the m-commerce site and then lead the shoppers down mobile-optimized paths, most e-retailers don’t redirect smartphone shoppers entering a site on a long e-commerce site page URLthat appears in an ad or in social media, Klais explains.

“A lot of brands think it’s enough to have a mobile commerce site, but are not thinking of customers coming to them on smartphones through Google, Facebook and Twitter apps that connect to content with desktop page URLs, not mobile URLs,” Klais says.

Some retailers put a blanket redirect on all e-commerce site page links that sends a consumer to the mobile commerce site home page, where the consumer has to start shopping all over again, he says.

“Retailers have to account for all of these mobile search and mobile social users that are touching links designed to connect to desktop e-commerce sites, links that are created for desktop search and social sites such as Google, Facebook and Twitter,” he says. “Leading a smartphone user to a desktop page kills your conversion rate.”

Many smartphone owners use the popular apps from Google, Facebook and Twitter. Retailers typically create ads and write posts for these three entities with e-commerce sites in mind, Klais says. When a shopper comes to an e-commerce URL from a mobile app and from many search and display ads and there is not a mobile redirect for that precise page, the shopper lands on an e-commerce page that is not optimized to fit the small screen of the smartphone. What’s more, traffic coming from such links does not register as mobile in web analytics programs—it’s thrown in with “direct access” traffic, not as a referral from a mobile source, Klais adds, because the server call comes from within the closed environment of an app.

“For people using Twitter or Google search or Facebook apps, the in-app web browsing experience breaks the referral data stream that most marketers depend on to make their marketing decisions,” he explains. “You can’t look at your analytics program and see the number of clicks coming from a Facebook, Twitter or Google app; it just shows up in your direct, no-referral category. So you don’t know how big this problem is.”

This is not only a problem for consumers trying to shop on a smartphone and retailers trying to sell to mobile shoppers, it’s a problem for the advancement of mobile commerce, Klais says.

“If you go on a smartphone to a retailer’s page for North Face products and you get the desktop page, not a mobile page, the retailer has not connected the two, has not accounted for that as mobile,” he explains. “That hurts mobile conversion, and by hurting mobile conversion the retailer doesn’t invest as much in mobile commerce because the budgeting is tied to return on investment. By improving mobile conversion you can invest more into mobile commerce in general.”

On a brighter note, 60% of the retailers in the top 100 have mobile pages in some form, the study finds. But there are around 100 million smartphone owners browsing and searching the web, Klais says, and with Google predicting that as many as one in five or even one in four searches this holiday season will stem from mobile devices, that could spell trouble for retailers without mobile redirects on all their pages.

The solution? Build a mobile commerce site on the m-dot domain structure (for example, m.Retailer.com) from the very beginning, Klais says. When all www-dot web pages are in perfect alignment with all m-dot pages, it becomes easier for a retailer to redirect a consumer from an e-commerce page to an m-commerce page, regardless of where the consumer is clicking, he explains.

The Pure Oxygen study found that Foot Locker, Lowe’s, Recreational Equipment Inc., Staples and FTD all have built their m-commerce sites using the m-dot domain structure throughout, hence their high scores in the study.

“Some companies perhaps in a rush to get mobile out there didn’t really consider the thorough m-dot domain option as one of the priorities that it should be,” Klais says. “They put up a mobile site just to have one, but only now are they realizing the technical difficulties in mapping thousands of mobile pages to desktop pages. But they have to solve this problem if they want to easily increase their mobile conversion rate through the channels that customers prefer, like mobile search and mobile social.”

To conduct the study, Pure Oxygen created a tool called the Mobile Site Analyzer, which it offers free to merchants. To access the analyzer, a merchant can go to PureOxygenMobile.com and click on Tools. There, a merchant can enter a URL and its e-mail address and the tool performs the analysis and e-mails a report.

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