December 7, 2010, 2:14 PM

How do you test your mobile site?

Retailers that have their mobile sites up and running are now thinking about performance.

Now that more retailers are past the first mobile hurdle of simply getting their sites up and running, more are on to step No. 2: making sure it performs up to par.

My hunch is that mobile commerce site performance may be even more important than e-commerce site performance. Mobile users are on the go, likely trying to make a quick, last-minute purchase during life’s in-between moments (such as while waiting to meet a friend, sitting in a doctor’s office or during a commute). In short, they’re not going to wait around for a site to load while watching the latest episode of Glee. Beyond load time, it’s also more crucial in the mobile realm that all graphics and page elements load correctly. That’s because unlike an e-commerce site that often has several extra bells and whistles, Flash sequences and marketing messages—mobile sites are traditionally more pared-down,  and offer only what’s necessary to make a purchase.

I wrote several months ago a story on the difficulties retailers are running into tracking mobile site performance. One source, Jordan Holberg, e-commerce manager at upscale department store Barneys New York, told me it is difficult to track how his mobile site performs because traditional analytics packages embed JavaScript calls on a web site.  When a user visits a page, the JavaScript calls return information about that user's session to the analytic package's home server. That information includes pages viewed, cart data and search actions. The problem, Holberg told me, is that mobile phones vary significantly in their ability to play nicely with JavaScript. That left Holberg to test his mobile site in a very cumbersome way—having his staff try out the site themselves on as many devices they could get their hands on.

Another mobile executive, Christopher Brya, director of mobile and emerging channels for Choice Hotels—which operates more than 6,000 hotel chains and does six figures a month in mobile sales—tells me that some of his company’s biggest mobile strides and discoveries have come from its onsite usability lab where he and his staff watch consumers navigate both his company’s and other mobile sites and apps via various devices.

These hands-on approaches might make sense for a new channel such as mobile where retailers are making basic design decisions like determining categories for a new app or deciding between text or image-based links. But they can’t be very efficient as a primary form of mobile site tracking. I don’t think you’d very often see this type of testing with an e-commerce site except perhaps during a re-launch or when a retailer is making some major design overhauls. In short, mobile retailers need, or will soon need, an accurate, automated system to constantly check their mobile site performance.

Web performance monitoring firms Keynote Systems Inc. and Gomez Inc. have launched in the past few months mobile web monitoring services (some of which are actually free). Keynote’s Mobile Internet Testing Environment and the Gomez Active Mobile program both allow for recording and playback of mobile transactions. And Keynote says it lets users test any type of mobile web site including sites that are coded in HTML and use JavaScript, Ajax, CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and more.

Google also offers a mobile tracking service to complement its popular Google Analytics program. Retailers optimizing content for mobile users and that have a mobile sites can track traffic to their mobile sites from all web-enabled devices—whether or not the device runs JavaScript—by adding a snippet of code to the back end or server-side of their mobile sites.

I’ve yet to hear much feedback about retailers using these services, and less as to whether they work easily and effectively. If anyone has any thoughts to share about mobile web performance monitoring services, I’d love to hear from you.

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