February 1, 2011, 12:00 AM

Mobile Must-Dos

10 critical steps to retailing success when designing mobile sites and apps.

It's impossible to miss all the articles, blogs and statistics telling us that mobile commerce is the next big wave of consumer shopping. But how do you distill all that information into the necessary actions to best position your company to ride that wave?

Making m-commerce easier, more fun and more useful for the mobile customer is what will ensure success. Put these on your 2011 mobile "must-do" list.

1. Provide one brand experience

To your customer, mobile is just another way to access your brand, your products and your content. They are expecting, in fact demanding, a seamless experience, whether in the store, shopping the web site or walking down the street using a smartphone.

Whichever channel they use, they expect that they will recognize "you," that is the distinctive qualities of your brand. And they expect that you will recognize them. It's critical that you have one view of the customer. Any account that a user has online should be tied to the mobile site or apps so the same log-ins work on all.

When a customer goes to "My Account," she expects to see everything, regardless of channel. Let her use her computer to put an item in her basket, order it via her smartphone and pick it up in the store. It is all one store to a consumer.

2. Ensure promotions cross every channel

Since mobile should be just another way for customers to buy or research products and services, all your promotions should be created equal. You can have channel exclusives but, unless it is clearly stated, gift cards, promotion codes, free shipping or other offers should be consistently redeemable across stores, online, catalog and mobile.

Also, don't forget that many customers are already viewing your e-mails and web sites on smartphones whether you planned for that or not. Put in bar codes and two-dimensional QR codes that are readable in-store.

3. Compensate for "fat finger" challenges

With most smartphone displays only three or four inches in length, it's not easy to select options on the screen with a finger or trackball. When text is hyperlinked, the result can be too many linked items right next to each other, forcing a zoom in, an extra step for the customer. Any more than eight to 10 rows of text on one page can get tricky. Clearly designated icons can help visually clarify what users should focus on, as Kayak's mobile app illustrates below.

Above, Victoria's Secret's well-designed mobile home page illustrates another approach. It makes clear what each link is and provides plenty of room between choices.

4. Search and you shall find

There are a few mobile features that should mimic online best practices, such as site search. A search tool or box should live on every page of a mobile site or in the toolbar at the bottom of a mobile app. According to the FitForCommerce M-Commerce Benchmark in October 2010, only 5% of retailers surveyed had this feature, and in December 2010 14% out of 160 had it.

The limited real estate available on phones makes efficient site search and clear navigation even more critical. Ideally, mobile site search should suggest a word as it is being typed and allow for misspellings, since typing on the tiny keyboards is such a challenge. Steve Madden and Newegg are ahead of the pack in offering auto-complete functionality that lets visitors find the term they're looking for quickly. Google now uses this on its site and toolbars, and so do some web sites, so customers are learning to expect that they won't have to finish typing search terms.

Mobile shoppers are typically more directed than online shoppers, so they need a clear and quick path to the item. Provide a way to reorder or filter category or search results. The sorting options will differ by retail vertical but some fail-safe options to consider are best-sellers, sort by price, A-to-Z, and by name or brand.

And there should never be "no items found" as you see below in Macy's app example. Always offer a soft decline and other suggested items, whether it's a spelling or stock issue. Apparel retailers do not provide soft declines for searches with no results as often as the electronics and gifting verticals do.

5. Understand the need for speed

Since mobile consumers are often in a hurry, ensuring quick page load times is important. Retailers should take care not to slow down page load time by putting too much content on a page.

When there is a lot to display, using layered formats where items only load when the tab or section is selected can decrease load time. ShopNBC's mobile site and the mobile apps of J.C. Penny and Newegg (pictured below) use that technique. Our benchmarking study showed many mobile sites load slowly, so this an area that demands attention.

6. Share and share alike

Mobile shopping lends itself to sharing, whether it's posting an item bought onto Facebook or asking for friends' opinions before making a purchase. Be sure social links are easily visible on product pages. Facebook "Like" is one of the simplest integrations to begin with. Steve Madden's mobile site (above, right) includes this on all product detail pages.

Another must-have feature is product ratings and reviews, which should be on every product detail page and possibly even visible from search results so shoppers can decide which products to click on. If a product is new, make that clear in search results.

Of the 54 apparel sites in the FitForCommerce M-Commerce Benchmark study, 15% enable links to social sites, such as for sharing product information on Facebook and Twitter. Of the 160 mobile sites in the study, including the 54 apparel sites, only about 7% have some sort of sharing capability. In the electronics vertical, only 12% execute this. For gifting season, this was a big miss.

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