What “Mobile-First” Means For eCommerce

The shift from desktop computing to mobile-first operations is a pervasive one. While desktops and laptops still haven’t been replaced as workhorses, mobile devices have become our go-to technology for a majority of our web-based interactions.

When we watch YouTube on the couch or read a magazine on the subway, our phone is our preferred portal. When we need directions or want to get a second opinion, our hands instinctively jump to our pockets, ready to tap and drag our queries across our screens.

It has become so expected that mobile devices are our default that we take it for granted. It’s woven so much into the fabric of our experiences that we rarely stop to think about the implications, or how we can change the rest of our infrastructure to reflect the new paradigm.

Micro-Moments And Local Search

People tend to pick up their phones when they need something. Sometimes it’s as simple as alleviating boredom (they need a distraction) but sometimes it’s a little more complicated. Colibri has written about Google’s Micro-Moments before, and their impact on buying habits. Often, a chance encounter, a spur-of-the-moment whim, or a sudden insight will spark a flurry of interest in a particular service or product.

Humans are simple creatures, and we readily take advantage of the instant access and unprecedented convenience that the internet affords us. Let me share with you a recent example.

While we were out walking, my wife spied in a shop window a wallet with her favorite animal and her favorite flowers. It was perfect, but the store had closed. So I took out my phone. With nothing more to go on than “raccoon flower wallet” I found a picture that matched the wallet we’d seen, and traced it back to the site: in this case, an online store based out of France.

Within five minutes, I had found the product we’d chanced upon, and placed an order to have it (and a few other things) shipped.

This is a perfect example of a micro-moment. We had a sudden, unanticipated need that led to an almost instant conversion.

Breaking it down, here’s a short list of everything the online store did to anticipate traffic like ours:

  • They included pictures for quick and convenient identification of products
  • They used descriptive keywords to ensure that they were findable in SERPs
  • They were ready for traffic in another language (a must, since they offered international shipping)
  • They were mobile-friendly, and let us complete our transaction without any undue hurdles or difficulties

So, with that example in mind, let’s look at some of the other ways ecommerce sites need to respond to the new mobile-first paradigm.

UX And Interface

UX or “user experience” is something else that we at Colibri have written about. If you’re not familiar with the term, it broadly refers to the ways in which a user (a customer, a visitor to a site, etc.) will engage with a product or service (in this case, likely a webpage.) If you’re optimizing your site to promote good user experiences, your site is quick, welcoming, efficient, intuitive, and dependable.

People don’t want to spend too much time on their phones. Whether they want to browse products, make a purchase, or just read some reviews, they want to find what they’re looking for quickly. Long load times, redirects, indirect page layouts, or labyrinthine menu structures are frequently enough of a turn-off to drive away potential conversions.

So, what can you do, in practical terms, to make sure your site is up to spec?

1. Reduce load times by limiting image size or elaborate page elements

Elaborate animations are garish and unimpressive, not to mention quaint, and no one needs a full HD image on their 5” cell phone screen. Not many people are doing their online shopping in 4K, so a regular old JPEG is probably plenty.

2. Keep menus simple

It’s probably pretty clear to you what most of your traffic is here to find. Make sure you have obvious jump-points to the major parts of your site, whether that means product categories, industry news, blog posts, or whatever else. Ideally, from your home page, a person should be able to find exactly what she’s looking for with just a couple of clicks.

3. Keep your pages quick

Obviously, you can’t account for every contingency. Some people will be browsing on outdated devices, or in very low signal areas, but there’s still plenty you can do on your end to try to curb long load times. If most of your traffic is coming from a specific geographic area, that should be the physical location of your main servers.

Don’t skimp on your hosting costs, either, if you’re noticing long load times. There are plenty of ways to audit your website’s performance (either with third-party tools or manual emulation of different devices and circumstances), so pay special attention to how your pages are rendered on mobile devices.

4. Consider a dedicated mobile version of your site

Even if it lacks the full range of options, a dedicated mobile version of your site is a great way to streamline your conversion path for mobile devices in particular.

If your site is primarily based around online sales, bookings, or some other service, one idea is to make your mobile homepage a clear and direct list of product or service categories rather than a more demure homepage for your full desktop site. It won’t come off as pushy to anyone who came there to buy.

Remember, your primary goals when it comes to mobile visitors are efficiency, transparency, and intuitive usability.

Session Resume And Cart Recovery

Now that we’ve talked about the technical details, we’re going to give some attention to the more logistical hurdles faced by mobile traffic, and what your site can do to help.

Picture this: it’s 8:27 in the morning, on your daily commute. You’re suddenly and inexplicably possessed by a desire to buy a vinyl album from your childhood. It’s the quintessential micro-moment. You search, and, lo and behold, there’s a dealer in the next state with one copy left.

You add it to your cart but, just as you’re loading the page with your shipping information, your train goes underground and you lose signal. By the time you get above ground again, it’s your stop and you’re off to work for the day. It’s not until you’re back on the train headed home that you’re reminded of the album you wanted to buy.

What do you do?

Do you take your phone out again, and start the process over? Will you wait until you’re back home, to your desktop, to make your purchase? What if that one and an only copy have sold by the time you’re back?

We take our phones out for just about anything, but our sessions are interrupted just as readily. We’re used to reading an article in fits and spurts over the course of a number of sessions, but how can an ecommerce site anticipate and cater to that kind of intermittent customer behavior?

Let’s give our protagonist a happy ending.

He finds an email waiting in his inbox. The site has reached out to him, noting that he’s left something in his cart and offering a direct link to resume his session in progress – he doesn’t even need to re-enter his information. There’s even an offer for 10% off. He couldn’t be happier, and he’ll remember the good service next time.

The site accounted for the inconstancy of mobile sessions and improved the customer experience with an email-address collection and a session-resume system.

Too many ecommerce sites make the mistake of treating mobile traffic as being essentially parallel to desktop traffic (same habits, different tool) when the reality is that any ecommerce site needs to recognize that with the new paradigm comes an entirely new set of behaviors, modes, and needs, and, as ever, it needs to be able to anticipate them.

Indeed, the nature of good commerce has always been offering people what they need before they think to ask for it, and the shift to mobile-dominant interactions is just one more opportunity for ecommerce sites to thrive.

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