E-Commerce has, without question, forever changed the way we shop. The question is: has it changed the way you sell? In 2010, e-commerce represented 4.2% of retail spending, that’s $164.6 billion, up from 3.9% in 2009. The internet is constantly changing the way shoppers interact with stores, and nothing is more crucial for retailers in the modern age than to be versatile and adaptive along with the evolving technological stage. Over the past two years, and upcoming in the next 2 to 3, a major change has been and will be taking place. We are smack in the middle of a major shift, truly an epoch-change, in how the internet integrates into modern life and naturally, into business.
The Mobile Shift
If you haven’t noticed, the web has gone mobile. Of the world’s 4 billion in-use mobile phones, 1.08 billion are smart-phones. According to the Pew Research Center, 11% of adults own tablet computers. By 2015, the majority of users accessing the internet will be doing so on mobile devices. This is an incredibly significant prediction. It signals a complete change in the way we understand the internet and how a business adjusts (or fails to) will without question impact its future. To quote Mary Meeker, Morgan Stanley’s internet analyst, “Rapid ramp of mobile internet usage will be a boon to consumers and some companies will likely win big (potentially very big) while many will wonder what just happened.”
Mobile Changes Everything
The absolutely crucial piece of information for retailers to know about this mobile shift is what it means for how people use the internet. Let’s say this: it’s very good news for retailers. A smartphone is more than just a laptop with a small screen. It is, and is increasingly becoming, an optimized mobile shopping machine. For a consumer, a smartphone is a store-finder, a quality-distiller, and a bargain-hunter. For a mobile-ready business, the smartphone is a marketing godsend. With the right preparation, on that little screen your store can pop up on a map with positive customer reviews, your phone number and hours, and a link to your handy, mobile-optimized website. If you have a special app through which customers can, for example, view your products, find special deals, and review or share their experiences across various social media platforms, the smartphone becomes a customer-loyalty-machine. This is not a fantasy or a prediction, this is how smart-phones are being used right now. According to Nielson, 50% of smartphone shoppers use a GPS/mapping app to find a retail location; 44% access the site of a retailer where they typically shop; 34% downloaded a retailer’s app; and an equal number (24%) search for a coupon to use at checkout or use a barcode-scanning app to comparison shop. Mobile e-commerce is good for consumers, and it can have huge benefits for involved retailers.
Making your Mobile-Presence
There are basically two options for going mobile:
- Optimize your existing website for mobile browsing. This means designing a site which responds to and adjusts for changes in screen-resolution, so that it stays mostly the same from desktop to tablet to smartphone. This requires redesigning elements of your website however, the extensiveness of the redesign required depends on your site’s age, technology, and content layout. Keep in mind that when it comes to the internet, change and adaptation are good things; they mean moving forward, keeping up with or ahead of technological trends.
- Design an exclusive mobile site, separate from your existing online presence. Whether this is optimal depends on your business and how well your current website adapts to mobile platforms. However, for certain businesses, a standalone mobile site can attract customers and keep them coming simply by virtue of its ease-of-use. Consider Papa John’s mobile site, which is designed specifically for the needs of mobile-users and is a good example of a straightforward way to make mobile make money, so to speak.
To finish up, here a few tips for a great mobile site:
- Large Buttons: Good navigation is fundamental to web-design, and it becomes even more important at the more concentrated scale of the mobile web. When done properly, with big buttons which fit into your overall branding and marketing strategy, even the simplest navigation can guide mobile users quickly to the most important parts of your website.
- Vertical Navigation: Due to the dimensions of smartphone screens, horizontal menus will either run off screen or cause your whole website to be shrunken down. Nothing is worse for a mobile user than to have to scroll around a barely visible site, and a frustrated customer is not a customer for long. Vertical menus or, if necessary, shortened horizontal menus with vertical sub-menus, will make your site more compatible and pleasing for customers to use on the mobile web.
- Avoid Flash: iPhones and iPads don’t support the flash-player, and flash loads slowly on other mobile devices. A mobile adaptation of your site will require replacements for flash elements. The simple truth is that flash will always be an impediment to the quality and ease-of-use of your website, and is best avoided.
- Make Pages Shareable: Social media buttons (“Tweet this” “Like this”) on every page, article, video-clip, and gallery photo on your website will give visitors more chances to do your marketing for you. Mobile users are both likely to share what they like online and likely to notice elements that distinguish your mobile site, such as positive social media response. Total social media integration is a simple step with big benefits on the mobile web.