December 19, 2013, 10:56 AM

You’re not gonna believe this: Consumers hate mobile sites!

Internet Retailer exclusive: Retail Systems Research unveils stunning new m-commerce research.

Lead Photo

This e-retailer actually asks shoppers on smartphones if they would like to be directed to its mobile commerce site. Turns out a lot of consumers want nothing to do with mobile sites, according to new research from Retail Systems Research.

I sent my pal Nikki Baird, a managing partner and mobile commerce expert at Retail Systems Research LLC, the picture you see at the right. I wanted Nikki’s opinion of what this e-retailer was doing to smartphone visitors. The smartphone screen shot shows (sorry to mix up holidays on you, long story) in the process of loading the e-retailer’s full desktop e-commerce site on my iPhone, but pausing to pop up a window that asks visitors on smartphones, “Would you like to view our mobile site?”

That is rather unusual in m-commerce circles. Virtually all retailers with m-commerce sites automatically redirect customers on smartphones to the mobile site, no questions asked. Though most m-commerce sites do feature a “Full Site” link on the home page of the m-commerce site, just in case.

My response to’s question was, “Of course I want your mobile commerce web site on my iPhone. I don’t want to have to pinch and zoom and swipe like mad to try to make sense of the huge desktop site on my small smartphone screen. Are you crazy?”

Well, Nikki informs me, to my dismay, I’m in the minority. She gave me, and now you, an exclusive sneak peek at some new Retail Systems Research data yet to be published. The data in the “RSR Mobile Consumer 20 Research, October 2013” study is shocking. In an October study of 1,152 U.S. consumers who own smartphones and/or tablets, 55% bypass mobile commerce web sites in favor of full desktop sites when shopping on their mobile devices. That’s insane. Why on earth are all these people ignoring these beautiful sites designed to perfectly fit their mobile screens and opting for the horrible experience of using a big site on a small screen?

Before we get to possible answers to that question, let me parse the data just a bit. 59% of the 525 consumers who own both a smartphone and a tablet bypass mobile sites in favor of desktop sites. It’s possible a chunk of these consumers are on tablets and being served the m-commerce site for smartphones (some retailers do this) and choosing to go for the full site. That makes sense on a tablet. And perhaps some are being served tablet-optimized sites (rare compared to smartphone-optimized sites) and choosing the desktop site they are used to. Again, on a tablet, makes sense.

But a sizable chunk of that 59% are smartphone owners bypassing smartphone sites for desktop sites. What’s more, 49% of the 593 consumers who only own smartphones bypass smartphone sites for desktop sites, Nikki tells me. That just boggles my mind. So I asked Nikki: Why are smartphone owners spitting on beautiful mobile commerce sites and choosing the terrible experience of shopping a desktop site on a tiny smartphone screen? She has two hypotheses.

“One, retailers have gone too far in dumbing down their mobile sites and consumers don’t like them; or two, consumers know retailers’ main sites better, they’ve been trained on where on the screen to look for the buttons and all that kind of user interface stuff to the point where they just find it quicker to go to the main site,” Baird says.

There’s one fatal flaw to the second hypotheses, Baird says.

“I’ve used main sites on my mobile phone and hated the experience: radio buttons and selection boxes are way too small, text is impossible to read,” she says. “We ran into this all over the place when my colleagues and I rated digital gift card experiences. I don’t see the full site on a smartphone being preferable, but on the other hand, there were some retailers where we couldn’t accomplish an e-gift purchase on their mobile site: either it was broken or it dumped us onto a main site page by default.”

On another note, Baird says she still sees a lot of uncertainty in the market as to whether a mobile-optimized web site or a mobile app is best for engaging consumers on smartphones.

“I favor the app strategy for engaged consumers and the mobile site for everyone else,” she says. “But if consumers are ditching the mobile site, that has an impact on the whole site side of the mobile commerce equation. It either means retailers are doing a bad job of mobile site design, or that consumers have gotten so used to the desktop site user interface that they don’t feel the need for mobile-optimized anything.”

In the end, Baird thinks RSR’s new mobile commerce data shows that retailers in m-commerce who believe they have great mobile sites actually have more work to do to make shopping mobile-optimized sites on smartphones more appealing to all those mobile consumers who are steering clear of those sites.

“I’m pretty sure retailers have not discovered the right use-cases to make mobile compelling to consumers, even with the mobile sales results we’re seeing this holiday season,” Baird says. “What all this data tells me is that maybe these holiday 2013 m-commerce sales numbers would’ve been even bigger if the mobile experience was more compelling.”

STAY TUNED: A full report on the Retail Systems Research mobile commerce data with analysis from experts and interviews with retailers that serve full desktop sites to smartphone shoppers will appear exclusively in the March 2014 issue of Internet Retailer magazine.

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