May 27, 2010, 1:55 PM

Diving in

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"A lot of people use mobile to browse," he says, "and the research we have seen and done shows people are more apt to browse and learn on the mobile site and transact over the phoneÑfor example, by a click-to-call function on the mobile site, which we haveÑor by doing it later on their PC."

But most mobile merchants want customers to be able to make a purchase without leaving the m-commerce site, and they include that functionality.

"Why miss the opportunity," says Beccue of ABI Research. "If you have the eyeballs of a customer and you're not taking advantage of that chance to sell them something, then you're missing an opportunity. You should be trying to close a sale."

Customer reviews
A feature that helps close sales in e-commerce is customer ratings and reviews. 65% of retailers in the 2010 edition of the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide offer customer reviews on their e-commerce sitesÑtwo-thirds is a big thumbs-up for a technology that continues to grow in popularity among retailers and consumers alike. However, only 37.5% of retailers with mobile commerce sites offer customer reviews.

Is there a fundamental difference between e-commerce shopping and m-commerce shopping that explains this difference? Not in the case of customer reviews, say Top 500 e-retailers and industry experts. It's simply a matter of prioritization in a burgeoning field that's evolving at a rapid pace.

"We really value that content and plan to push it out," says Zucker of K&L Wine, which uses m-commerce technology from Unbound Commerce tied closely to e-commerce technology from Endeca Technologies Inc. "It's important for a mobile site like ours, where we don't have the full transaction capability and instead use it as a means of displaying the inventory and giving people a means of researching products and learning all they can."

And customer reviews on an m-commerce site can help shoppers learn more while they're standing in a store, a fact more retailers are catching on to, says Brian Deagan, co-founder and CEO of Knotice Ltd., a direct digital marketing firm that includes mobile marketing in its offerings.

"Technically speaking it's simply getting the ratings and reviews information from the e-commerce site and placing it into a format and presentation that works for the different mobile form factor," Deagan says. "We've been focusing a lot of effort on mobile customer reviews this year because that's what our customers have been asking for."

Room for improvement
While customer reviews can help close a sale, one all-important factor sure to affect whether a shopper completes a purchase on an m-commerce site is performance. Regardless of the differences in connectivity, such as the obvious hard-wired versus wireless, consumers tend to have the same expectations of mobile sites as they have of e-commerce sites. They want m-commerce sites to be available and load pages speedily, and do so in a consistent manner.

5.7% of the m-commerce sites belonging to Top 500 e-retailers rated excellent in performance, as gauged by web and mobile web performance measurement firm Gomez, part of Compuware Corp. 48.6% earned a good and 45.7% fair. None of the sites rated poor.

The average mobile retail site outperforms those in other industries, coming in at around 4 seconds in response time with good consistency overall. The average mobile airline site is slower by comparison at about 4.25 seconds to download but with good consistency. The average mobile banking site takes more than 5 seconds to load with only fair consistency.

"Only a minority of retailers are delivering consistently excellent experiences. These top performers understand that mobile experiences can vary by carrier, by geography and by time of day, and they've taken important steps to streamline their mobile sites and infrastructure," says Matthew Poepsel, vice president of performance at Gomez. "The majority of mobile retail sites fall into the middle of the mobile retail pack, reflecting 'lumpy' experiences that likely underwhelm mobile shoppers on occasion. Retailers seeing inconsistent performance should examine their sites from the ground up, verifying designs are functional but lightweight and infrastructure is robust enough to meet the expectations of the demanding mobile shopper."

Retailers in m-commerce must keep a sharp eye on that demanding mobile shopper. They have to craft a shrewd strategy, and ensure they have the right blend of features and functions to help close a sale. Merchants that provide a satisfying customer experience designed especially for the mobile channel that performs well will be poised to reap rewards as consumers make a growing share of their retail purchases via the mobile phone.

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