Thursday, September 8, 2011

Mobile and E-Commerce Strategy

The use of smart phones and other mobile devices is increasing rapidly. In view of this general trend, what mobile strategy should you focus on for your e-commerce site? Would it be worth it for you to develop an iPhone app? Would a mobile site be better? Should all your products and services be available on a mobile device or just a few? These are some of the questions we will try to answer here.

A Few Definitions

To make this document easier to understand, here are definitions for some commonly used terms:
  • Mobile application: A program that must be downloaded onto a mobile device before it can be used. iPhone applications are the best-known examples, but the number of applications available for other platforms is growing fast.
  • Mobile Internet user: A person who navigates the web using a mobile device.
  • Mobile site: A website designed specifically for use on mobile devices. The mobile site usually offers a portion of the content and functions available on the regular site.
  • Mobile solution: This generic term includes all mobile applications and sites.

The Mobility Context

Before deciding what mobile strategy to adopt, it would be useful to understand that a mobile user is in a different context than a user who is sitting in front of a desktop computer with a 23-inch monitor. The mobile user’s objectives, needs and motivation are also very different. For example, a mobile Internet user is not going to buy a sofa or computer from his or her smart phone. A mobile Internet user’s transactions are often made in response to an immediate need while on-the-go.

Should you Have a Mobile Strategy?

You should ask yourself the following questions to determine whether or not a mobile strategy would be worthwhile for you:
  1. In which circumstances would a mobile Internet user make use of your mobile solution? What would it mostly be used for?
  2. How many mobile users would use your solution? Google Analytics can enable you to determine the number of visits to your website made from a mobile device.
  3. Would having a mobile solution provide you with a competitive advantage? Would not having one be a disadvantage?
  4. Would revenue from mobile users be additional income or would you have made this revenue anyway?
  5. Would your mobile solution generate more profits than expenses?
Mobile Application or Mobile Site?

Once you have evaluated whether you should offer a mobile solution, you will need to determine the type of solution. You can choose between a mobile website or a mobile app. If you are leaning towards a mobile app, you will have to decide which platforms to develop for (Apple iOS, Google Android, Microsoft Windows Mobile, etc.).

The advantage of a mobile website is that it can be accessed by all mobile phone platforms and can be easily upgraded. However, certain functions offered by mobile devices—such as GPS and camera functions—cannot be used by mobile websites.

The advantage of a mobile application is that it is built for a specific platform which enables tight integration (functions and interface) with the mobile device. However, development costs could make support for certain platforms prohibitive.

Mobility Challenges

Developing a good mobile solution is not easy and several challenges must be met at the design stage. Here are some important elements to take into consideration:
  • Mobile devices have very small screens. The amount of information that can be shown on a single screen is limited; this can impede comprehension.
  • Bandwidth is still limited. Even though mobile devices have high theoretical speeds, variations in signal quality will reduce actual bandwidth.
  • Mobiles devices lack physical keyboards thus text entry is difficult for most users.
  • Mobile devices do not come with a mouse. Contrary to regular websites, hovering the cursor over an item to get more information is not an option.
  • Platforms and screen sizes are numerous and varied.
  • The development on mobile devices is relatively new. Many user interface elements are not yet standardized. Icons are often used to save space on the screen but unfortunately, many of them will not be understood by users.

Tips for Designing Your Mobile E-Commerce Solution

  • Put yourself in the shoes of an on-the-go mobile user. Is your mobile solution really useful for someone who is on-the-go? People do not purchase TV sets like they do 99-cent music tracks. Ideally, a mobile solution should provide instant gratification or resolve an immediate problem.
  • Stick to the basics. Not all website functions or content are necessary or useful in a mobile context. For mobile, less is more.
  • If you choose to develop a mobile application rather than a mobile site, make sure it will encourage repeated use. Users are less likely to download an application they will use only once.
  • Store user information securely so they do not have to enter it every time they make a transaction. Imagine your customer struggling to enter a credit card number on a tiny virtual keyboard. Amazon‘s 1-Click function is an effective way around this problem.
  • Make sure that links, buttons and other controls can be easily pressed with a fingertip. Make it easy for your mobile customers to correct typos.
  • Remember that it is easy to scroll items vertically on a mobile screen but virtually impossible to do so horizontally.
  • Test the design of your mobile solution. This is important for websites and even more so for mobile sites or applications. Thorough pre-development user testing is essential.

Despite what certain “experts” say, having a mobile solution is not mandatory. Your answers to the questions in the “Should you have a mobile strategy?” section will help you shed some light on this issue.  If you choose to offer a mobile solution, you will have to decide which type. Like any other financial decision, your choice will be guided by a cost/benefit analysis for each of the various options.

And remember, make your mobile solution truly useful!

Further tips and information can be found at the following links:

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