Why some retailers do mobile sites differently

HalloweenCostumes.com asks mobile shoppers what site they prefer before directing them there. Exclusive research shows what consumers expect from mobile shopping.

Bill Siwicki

Here’s what most e-retailers with m-commerce sites do: They detect that a device requesting a web page is a smartphone, then automatically redirect that smartphone from the desktop site to the mobile site. All of that happens in the blink of an eye and a smartphone user never sees anything but the mobile site. Buried at the bottom of most m-commerce site home pages is a link that reads something along the lines of Visit Full Site, giving shoppers on smartphones the option to shop the site they know from their desktop shopping.

But e-retailer HalloweenCostumes.com takes a different approach. Rather than automatically redirect smartphone users to its mobile site and then include a View Full Site link on the mobile home page, when HalloweenCostumes.com detects a smartphone requesting a web page, the retailer displays a window asking the mobile shopper, “Would you like to view our mobile site?” If a shopper touches OK, she is sent to the m-commerce site; if she touches Cancel, she is sent to the desktop site.

Half of HalloweenCostumes.com’s mobile shoppers choose the desktop site, while the other half choose the mobile site, reports Troy Eaves, the retailer’s vice president of marketing, in the upcoming March issue of Internet Retailer magazine, which explores in depth why many consumers dislike mobile sites.

“The mobile site is a little clunky and does not have all the features and functions of the desktop site,” says Eaves, who adds the e-retailer is testing design enhancements to create a richer and easier-to-use mobile site. “We have a lot of repeat customers who simply are more familiar with the desktop site.”

The conversion rates for mobile site shoppers and shoppers on smartphones using the desktop site are about the same, Eaves says. However, time on site is much higher for smartphone shoppers using the desktop site. Ironically, Eaves says this is probably because shoppers using the desktop site on smartphones have to pinch and zoom and swipe to navigate the site, and that takes time.

“Ultimately, we’ll probably move to responsive design to better serve all customers on all devices,” Eaves says. Responsive web design creates one site that adapts to fit any screen size.

Pottery Barn also treats mobile differently than most retailers. If a consumer types PotteryBarn.com into her smartphone’s mobile web browser, the chain retailer automatically redirects her to its m-commerce site. However, touching select links in Google search results leads shoppers on smartphones to full desktop site pages. Pottery Barn then displays a button that reads View Mobile Site on top of the desktop pages, which is contrary to the common approach that displays a mobile page with a View Full Site link at the bottom. Pottery Barn declined to discuss its strategy.

As part of the Internet Retailer-exclusive research, Retail Systems Research LLC, a research and consulting firm that follows mobile commerce, asked consumers to agree or disagree with some statements about mobile shopping. Two results may point to where retailers’ mobile sites are lacking. For example, “Retailers should use past purchases to inform personalized recommendations and discounts.” 41.3% of consumers agreed, 32.3% disagreed and 26.4% were neutral. And, “I want my favorite retailers to know who I am online, mobile and in-store.” 29.9% agreed, 37.8% disagreed and 32.3% were neutral.

“The more specific or timely or location-based a retailer can be, the more likely a consumer is to say, ‘Yes, I want that from my retailers,’” says Nikki Baird, a Retail Systems Research managing partner. “That is the key to unlocking personalization for retailers—the more value they can deliver and the greater the relevancy from a context perspective, the more willing consumers are to engage with retailers on a more personal basis.”

Several retailers with extensive m-commerce experience tell the same story: their first mobile site was lame, the second mobile site is much better, but responsive design is probably the ultimate answer.

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HalloweenCostumes.com, m-commerce, mobile app and site design, mobile commerce, Pottery Barn, Retail Systems Research, Troy Eaves