This article is my annual check-in on the evolving impact of mobile technologies on ecommerce. I wrote a blog post, "Going Mobile - A Year Later," in August 2011 as a follow-up to my post from May 2010 titled "Going Mobile" when I first realized that mobile shopping was becoming a reality.
My mobile reminder occurred last week as I was looking for a place to have dinner. As I tried to browse the menus of various places from my iPhone, I finally chose a restaurant because I could read its menu on my phone. All the others lost my business simply because their websites were not smartphone friendly.
As a small business owner, ask how many customers take their business elsewhere if your website is not mobile ready. For a salon, restaurant, auto repair shop, or a local shop, it might mean that you lose a prospect if you don’t provide quick access to your location, operating hours, contact information, call now, and product and service offerings. Mobile is no longer an option for local businesses. It’s a requirement.
Going mobile is a relatively easy task for many websites, as platforms like WordPress offer responsive themes that size dynamically for various screens. But, even they are not perfect — as you will see later in this article.
An ecommerce site is more challenging. Many shopping carts are not mobile friendly. They require significant effort to migrate into a small screen. Some stores are instead choosing shopping apps. Either path likely requires an investment in development and testing of somewhere between a few dollars to many thousands of dollars.
Regardless, it’s time to seriously consider a mobile strategy for your business.
Consider an example of how two of the leading companies in the bead industry, FireMountainGems.com and Artbeads.com, look on an Android device. Both stores carry similar items and have overlapping customers.
Unless you are a loyal customer, you are likely to shop on Artbeads.com. Its navigation, product displays, "add to cart," and "call us" buttons are all geared for mobile purchases. This is not the case with FireMountaingems.com.
In my previous business, our ecommerce sites were not mobile friendly. We still received dozens of orders from iPhone and Android devices each month. But it likely would have been double or triple that amount if we had invested in a mobile shopping website. Given current growth levels, in a few years there could be more people shopping on a tablet or smartphone than laptop and desktop computers.
Smartphones: Where to Start
There are some helpful new resources available from Google to research the impact of mobile devices and offer tips and resources. Visit Google's HowToGoMo.com site for best practices, research, a quick mobility test for your website, and other information. Google has a related site called Our Mobile Planet that includes even more detailed information about different demographic groups and how they use their mobile devices for various uses. This information could help you think about how you may want to leverage mobile devices.
As with any website, first determine your goals, your target customers, and where those prospects are coming from. Consider the following features on your mobile site.
- Map. Do you want people to find your business using a map?
- Call now. Do you want people to call you on the phone?
- Make an appointment. Consumers can make an appointment using a scheduling app.
- Shopping cart. Do you want people to shop and place an order on your website?
- Collecting leads. Do you want to generate a lead form?
- Live chat. Do you want them to be able to “chat”?
- Account access. Do you want to provide full access to accounts?
- Multiple payment options. What payment options will you offer?
- Full or limited content. How much of your content needs to be available in the mobile site?
Once you determine your goals, evaluate your options. They differ depending on the device you are targeting and what your goals for the mobile website or app are.
If you are a local business and are not trying to capture orders online, consider a service like DudaMobile.com. It offers a free, hosted service for smaller and simpler mobile websites. I experimented with DudaMobile enough to develop this before and after shot of my newest website, eBusiness-Vision.com. You can test your entire website from this interface and make a wide variety of theme and formatting choices.
The image on the left is my responsive WordPress theme — running out of the box. It needs some work even though the content is sizing to the width of the screen. The navigation is hidden, and fonts are too large. The image on the right is the automated site that DudaMobile.com generated. Navigation is moved up front, images are stripped out, and the site is cleaner and more usable.
I would fall into the $9 per month service rather than the free one. But that’s still very inexpensive, with no upfront development. I have not yet determined my own mobile strategy for this site yet. But it's clear I can offer a mobile version with this tool. DudaMobile also offers additional features like click-to-call and a map, which are requirements for a local business.
For ecommerce websites, many shopping carts and platforms now offer themes and templates for mobile sites. Contact your provider and evaluate its options. A mobile site generated within a platform should always be better than an external site or one generated from a feed because of the layers of complexity and content within an ecommerce store.
For reference, I tested a new ecommerce site — under development — in DudaMobile.com. It would be a challenge to fit that site into DudaMobile's templates without a fair amount of work.
A third alternative is to develop a mobile app that will run on Android or iOS devices. That will likely be expensive — many IOS apps cost at least $5,000 to $20,000. There are many companies that offer prebuilt templates that reduce that upfront investment. But, if you have ever used the Amazon.com app or other leading shopping apps, you know that they are a great way to deliver a cool shopping experience — even better than a well designed website.
Tablets: A Future Dilemma
If you want to deliver the ultimate shopping experience, develop a native Android or iPad shopping app. I will not be surprised, by this time next year, to be writing about a cool service that builds those apps. But I don’t know of one currently.
Check out the websites of your primary competitors on a smartphone. Then see how your site compares. If your competitors are smartphone ready and you are not, your market share is smaller than it could be