Who's dreaming of a mobile christmas?

By Peter Ballard @Ballyfool

As the Christmas shopping season rolls around again, the media is busy re-running the fast-becoming-seasonal stories of it being the year of the “online Christmas”. This year I notice there is a new twist, 2011 is apparently a “mobile Christmas”.

Whilst it’s true that mobile shopping is growing, and there is no doubt it is set to grow even faster next year, there are a few things to bear in mind before declaring this as the first m-commerce Christmas.

Firstly, true mobile commerce is still small; it was estimated to be worth £10m in 2011. Secondly, tablet is often included as mobile, but this is misleading because the shopping activity on this device is often happening at home, where the tablet is merely a more convenient device to have on the sofa than a laptop or PC. And finally, the experience of purchasing on a mobile device is still often a poor one, and this presents a significant barrier to sales growth.

As more retailers invest in mobile sites, or at least make the changes to their websites that help them render more effectively in mobile browsers, more users are conducting their research and short-listing on these devices. However, problems start to proliferate when moving to the checkout process. Often, the jump to secure side is done via pop-ups or redirects, an experience that is more disjointed on a mobile device.

In our work, we come across many instances on mobile of forms that are difficult to use (sometimes impossible) and input errors are common place: drop downs that don’t work, post-code finders that don’t trigger, buttons that don’t render, and ‘tabbing’ that doesn’t work. Also, because of screen size, forms can be long and confusing, user-confidence can erode as they have to zoom in and out and cope with fiddly typing and locating errors on the page.

This is happening because many retailers are simply not investing in the same kind of rigorous usability testing of their mobile site, as they do with their website. The emphasis has been on simply having a site, rather than having an optimised site.

The larger retailers have invested in dedicated Apps; Amazon, Ebay, and Asos will all get high usage this Christmas, and these help by having registered accounts that make the one-click nature checkout process simpler. However, Apps can be costly to maintain and, for retailers, the long-term trend seems to be away from Apps and towards mobile sites.

In the next year, we will see a proliferation of mobile wallets and “Tap to pay” NFC offerings, which should help bring the benefits of one-click purchasing to a broader range of mobile site. Added to this, better exploitation of QR codes, and barcode readers, could provide better “straight-to-checkout” experiences. However, the success of these offerings will also rely on the customer experience of signing up, registering and activating these services as simple and as intuitive as possible. And that means testing these applications with real users.

So one thing is certain, more people will be shopping this year on a mobile device than ever before, but it will be interesting to see what the customer verdict is on their mobile shopping experience, and how festive they are feeling come the 25th.

Peter Ballard

I co-founded Foolproof with Tom Wood back in 2002. Today I work across a range of clients, particularly in the roles of Experience Planner and Client Partner. In my role as Experience Planner, I ensure that our design teams have access to the right insight to respond appropriately to the business and creative challenges faced by our clients.

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