March 3, 2014, 11:28 AM

Why consumers hate mobile sites (and what you can do about it)

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So, guess what Paul Fredrick is testing today? That's right, responsive design. It's working with design and testing firm Monetate Inc. to take sections of its desktop site, transform them with responsive design, and dynamically serve those pages to subsets of consumers, while serving traditional desktop site pages to other consumers. Bausher says it's too soon to analyze its results.

"We're still at the very beginning stages," she says. "We're not thinking of an 'm-dot' site again. We may go down the responsive route. There is not a magic formula that says if you follow these steps you will have a great mobile site."

Moosejaw Mountaineering figured things out years ago. In 2011, it became one of the first retailers to launch a responsive design site. A year after it launched the responsive site, Moosejaw found its smartphone-based sales were 10 times greater than sales on its old mobile site. In December 2013, 21% of web traffic came from smartphones, 16% from tablets and 63% from desktops; the breakdown for revenue was 8% smartphone, 15% tablet and 77% desktop, the company reports.

But there's more to the story. Moosejaw got a surprise. Immediately after launching the responsive site, there was a surge in mobile Google searches for the phrase "Moosejaw standard site." Suddenly a number of Moosejaw customers were revolting against responsive design on smartphones.

The number of searches for that phrase increased 60% during the 2013 holiday season, says Eoin Comerford, president and CEO of Moosejaw Mountaineering.

"We discovered order tracking on our responsive site on smartphones was not very user-friendly," Comerford says. "The pages do not render as well as we would like. We're working on that now."

Moosejaw responded to the searches for "Moosejaw standard site" by placing a View Full Site link on the responsive pages served to smartphones. Touching that link suppresses the smartphone version of the responsive site and serves the desktop version. Today, 1.7% of Moosejaw shoppers on smartphones touch the View Full Site link.

"With the earlier mobile site, we as web designers assumed these are the functions the users want, so then we cut things out," Comerford says. "We thought people on smartphones did not need reviews on the product page, that there wasn't enough space for alternate views, that zoom would be too much. You try to take things away to make it easier and quicker for the user."

But Moosejaw discovered mobile consumers want those features and functions.

"After all, there is a reason we put those features on the desktop to begin with," Comerford says. "All of those things are needed for the consumer to make an educated choice about the products they are buying. If you take those things away, that hurts your ability to convert."

QVC, the third-biggest m-commerce merchant, according to the 2014 Internet Retailer Mobile 500, is another retailer that found its m-commerce site lacking and decided to move to responsive design. All of its site pages from checkout on are now responsive. It will roll out responsive versions of the rest of its pages before the 2014 holiday season begins.

"It's critical no matter what path you take to mobile optimization that you not take things away from the customer," says Todd Sprinkle, vice president of content and platform innovation at QVC, where one-third of web sales are mobile.

When asked if responsive design is the answer to the conundrum of mobile shoppers choosing the mobile-unfriendly desktop site on which to shop, Sprinkle says not necessarily.

"I think responsive is an answer," Sprinkle says. "Really good mobile-first web design is the overarching answer to that question. Some people have done beautiful jobs with mobile-specific sites, but some people have taken their desktop site and degraded it. If we as retailers really want to serve the customer of today, we have to build for the smaller screen first and then make adjustments for bigger and bigger screens. Our goal is to account for every platform, leading design with mobile."

Many retailers and m-commerce experts agree that serving shoppers on smartphones full desktop sites is not a viable path forward in today's increasingly mobile world. They also agree that first-generation m-commerce sites for smartphones went too far in trying to streamline and quicken mobile shopping. To improve shopping for mobile consumers, and increase sales in the mobile channel, retailers need to replicate desktop shopping on the small screen. And a quickly increasing number of retailers are placing their bets on responsive design.



In-store mobile payments

Many experts in the payments and mobile technology industries foresee a day when consumers will use their smartphones to pay for purchases in stores. But consumers, according to the Retail Systems Research survey, are not in any hurry. The survey finds that among smartphone owners:

  • 72.2% worry mobile payments will not be secure.
  • 16.7% wish more retailers would enable loading and tracking of gift cards via the retailer's app.
  • 14.8% wish retailers would enable customers to pay for in-store purchases with a mobile app.
  • 12.0% have used PayPal Mobile to make a purchase in-store.
  • 7.0% have used Starbucks' mobile app to make a purchase in a Starbucks shop.

"Retailers will not invest in mobile payments until consumers are excited about mobile wallets, and consumers will not be excited about mobile wallets until retailers can guarantee mobile wallets are safe," says Nikki Baird, a Retail Systems Research managing partner. "Recent hacks and huge security breaches at retailers like Target are feeding the fire. Consumers perceive mobile as a less secure environment than the desktop. But really, in most ways, they are using the same exact systems to make financial transactions."

Tracking a consumer's location

Many mobile commerce experts say location-based marketing can reap many rewards for retailers. But will consumers allow companies to track their movements via smartphone?

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