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Mobile Commerce to Get Ahead of the Retail Game

Even though it’s still a bit early, the holiday season is just around the corner. For retailers, this is the time to start gearing up for the mad rush of shoppers who will be invading their stores, and to get ahead of the game by setting out holiday-themed stuff early to catch the folks who want to get a head start too. For customers (like me), this is the time to start strategizing on how to avoid horribly crowded malls and ridiculously long lines.

Nowadays, virtual shopping makes the experience much more easy and convenient for the people who don’t have the time or patience to deal with the crowds and lines, and also for the people who are just plain lazy (like me). And with the transformation of cell phones from just devices you use to make a call into full-fledged, mobile computers, as well as the rising popularity of tablet PCs, the mobile scene has developed into another crucial retail channel that businesses should explore. In fact, earlier this year Ignify identified and forecasted that mobile and tablet ecommerce would be one of the top retail trends of the year 2011.

According to a survey of 1,500 adults presented at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition 2011, 38% of the people surveyed own a smartphone, with 41% of them having made a purchase on the device. Also in the survey pool, 3% of those surveyed owned a tablet computer, with 65% saying they made a purchase from their tablet. Now, of the 5% who owned both a smartphone and a tablet, a whopping 85% made a purchase from a mobile device (also called "m-commerce").

So why not tap into the mobile gadget-loving streak of these potential customers and offer a mobile retail channel? With U.S. ecommerce sales reaching $165.4 billion in 2010 (a 14.8% increase from 2009’s $144.1 billion), retailers should look at any way they can carve out a bigger chunk of retail ecommerce. And with mobile retail, you can easily accomplish this.

For creating a slick, user-friendly mobile retail experience that keeps your customers returning in droves, here are some helpful tips and guidelines that you can follow.

1. Make Sure Your Website is Fully Functional and Accessible

First of all, you need to make sure that your mobile website is completely accessible and functional from a mobile browser. If this seems like an extremely common sense first step, and you’re even annoyed that I’m mentioning something so basic and essential, then great; it’ll be burned even more into your brain. Because really, what use is a website that caters to mobile users if the mobile users can’t access the website? So it’s best to keep in mind that most mobile operating systems, including Windows Phone 7, iPhone, and iPad, do not support Flash. So, to provide a similar experience without using Flash, use AJAX or Animated GIFs to get the same effect.

Also, don’t be shy in personally testing your mobile site. Whip out your smartphone (or if you don’t have one, borrow a smartphone from someone who does), and access your site. Does typing in your mobile address automatically direct you to the correct site, or does an error page pop up? Do the links on your site work okay? It’s better for you to be the first one to find and fix bugs and broken links than to have them stay on your site unreported for too long… and inevitably scaring off potential customers from visiting again.

2. Make Sure You Have an Optimized Mobile Browsing Experience

Now, I don’t mean to stereotype all mobile shoppers, but if I go off of my own personal experience as a shopper, I can tell you one thing: mobile shoppers are lazy. In other words, people who are using their mobile phone to access retail sites do not want to encounter a cluttered, difficult-to-use interface that makes them squint or scratch their heads while navigating through. In fact, having an overwhelmingly crowded homepage can immediately turn off a mobile user from spending time on your site, and can actively drive them towards seeking out your competitor.

The Ignify eCommerce mobile store provides an optimized mobile screen for customers to your site, giving them a sleek, user-friendly browsing experience.

The Ignify eCommerce mobile store provides an optimized mobile screen for customers to your site, giving them a sleek, user-friendly browsing experience.

Knowing that the first moment a mobile visitor opens up a store’s mobile site is crucial for customer retention, the latest version of Ignify eCommerce optimizes the mobile experience by offering the ability to create a separate mobile store in addition to the web optimized store available on desktop computers. With this mobile store, the main mobile devices popular with users – such as iPhone, Android phones, Windows Phone 7, iPad, HP Slate, and all Windows 7 Tablets – are natively supported so that you have the option to allow a customer to view your product catalog, or purchase items online from your mobile store.

And just like in the first tip, remember to try out your mobile site for yourself. Is it easy for you to navigate through your site? Is the correct information displayed prominently for visitors to see and access? Does it look aesthetically pleasing? Tweak and tune your site until it offers your visitors the best possible user experience.

3. Always Remember: Your Mobile Site is Different from Your Main Site

This tip really goes hand-in-hand with the second tip: when you’re optimizing your mobile site, always keep in mind that your mobile site is completely different from your regular site. So, different functionalities and appearances have more appeal to mobile users on a mobile site than for visitors on a regular website. For example, if you have brick-and-mortar retail stores in addition to a website and mobile store, make sure that the mobile store has your brick-and-mortar store hours, along with store locations, displayed front-and-center on your mobile site. This is important because since mobile users are usually, well, mobile, chances are that they’re trying to access this information if they’re looking it up on a mobile device (and hopefully it inspires them to jaunt on down to your store if they’re in the neighborhood).

Other examples of a mobile user’s browsing experience being different from a desktop computer user’s browsing experience is the fact that a person at a computer is sitting down in front of the screen, and thus putting more of a concerted effort in searching and browsing. So, a computer user is more likely to take their time to check out more of what the site has to offer, and to do more thorough searches. With mobile users, however, speed and simplicity are the key factors. A mobile user could be on their smartphone at home, sure, but most likely they’re out-and-about; so if they’re using their device to look up something in particular, they want to get to a search box quickly, and see their results instantly. Also, viewing a screen that’s much smaller than that of a computer means that they cannot access all the bells-and-whistles that are on a regular website.

Streamline the offerings on your main website to fit the reduced screen size of a mobile device. Speed and simplicity are crucial for mobile users, so make sure your search box and products are displayed prominently, as well as that your site is simple-to-click and easy to navigate.

Streamline the offerings on your main website to fit the reduced screen size of a mobile device. Speed and simplicity are crucial for mobile users, so make sure your search box and products are displayed prominently, as well as that your site is simple-to-click and easy to navigate.

So remember to accommodate for these considerations. So for instance, make your search box easy-to-spot on the page, and make your content simple-to-click. Streamline all the stuff that’s on your main website, boiling it down to only the essential items that a mobile user would be looking for. Know that a mobile user has a limited screen view, so adjust for that by, once again, making sure that the screen holds only the necessary information that a user would be searching for, or wanting to access. A visitor won’t stick around if they have to scroll down volumes of text just to find what they’re looking for. Even though it can be tempting to try to throw as much stuff as you can on your mobile site to entice potential customers, remember to simplify, simplify, simplify.

And the last rule for you to remember: you’re only limited by your imagination. It’s up to you to think of the new, creative, and exciting things that will make your mobile ecommerce site stand out from the rest. With the countdown on to the holiday season already, what are you waiting for – it’s time to start brainstorming before you get left behind!

Ashley Harbaugh is a Product Marketing Specialist at Ignify. Ignify is a technology provider of CRM, eCommerce and ERP, software solutions to businesses and public sector organizations. Ignify has been included as the fastest growing business in North America for 5 years in a row by Deloitte, Inc Magazine and Entrepreneur Magazine and ranked as one of 100 most innovative companies in the world in the Red Herring Global 100 in 2011.

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