Platforms & Apps

Ecommerce Know-How: Mobile Commerce in Four Steps

Internet-enabled mobile handsets, mobile Internet devices, and new wireless broadband standards are all making it easier for consumers to shop online while on the move. So, is your store ready to serve these mobile customers?

In the evolution of modern shopping, consumers have very recently progressed from visiting a physical store every time they wanted to buy something to shopping online via a desktop or laptop computer, at least some of the time. The next evolutionary step will presumably have shoppers making more purchases online from mobile devices.

These mobile shoppers will soon be buying flowers via an iPhone during a train commute, ordering a gift for a new client on a mobile Internet device (MID) in the back of an airport-bound taxi, or shopping for movie memorabilia on a BlackBerry while walking out of the theater.

Mobile Internet access and mobile commerce are inevitable, in my view. In fact, a Practical eCommerce survey of Internet aficionados found that some 77 percent of these experts and web followers believed that mobile devices would be the primary tool for Internet access by 2020.

In this “eCommerce Know-How,” I am going to describe four steps to get your online store ready for mobile commerce right now.

Video: Four Steps to Mobile Commerce Now

Step No. 1: Empower Site Search

There is, in my opinion, a relationship between screen size and the importance of site search. On a large monitor, shoppers take in more of a site’s visual elements—there is room to scan the page and look around. But on a two-and-a-half-inch mobile screen, browsing is far less desirable and site search far more important.

As you prepare your website for mobile phones and MIDs, it is not enough for your store’s site search to be accurate, it should also make suggestions and offer alternative spellings.

Many ecommerce sites use a very basic search that requires an exact match—specifically “shoes” won’t return boots, and misspelled words like “flowrs” won’t return any results. For the most part, typing on a handset is not as easy as typing on a full-sized keyboard, and a rigid site search doesn’t do anything to improve the experience.

Another search feature that can help mobile shoppers is word suggestion. When I type in “baseb” the search field should suggest “baseball.” Suggesting likely terms as a user types could save him or her from having to complete the entire word or phrase, a huge help when you’re typing on tiny keys or using a phone’s eight-key alphabet.

Step No. 2: Prepare Your CSS

Don’t run off and register the .mobi version of your domain. There is not going to be an Internet (.com) and a mobile Internet (.mobi). Instead, prepare your current website and domain to be more mobile-friendly using a handset-specific cascading style sheet (CSS) and, if you must, a mobile specific subdomain. (See as an example.)

If your website is properly developed according to current web standards, and not a collection of nested tables, you should be able to adjust almost every aspect of your layout to suit smaller screens just by changing your CSS.

Using your CSS, make your website approximately 205 pixels wide, move your site search right up to the top, and organize product category pages as lists, not grids. A good web designer can help a lot. And a simple line of code will switch a site visitor to your mobile CSS seamlessly, such as:

<code>        &lt;link href="/css/global.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" media="handheld" /&gt;

Also, check out the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) CSS Mobile Profile 2.0.

Step No. 3: Consider Additional Payment Options

Potential customers that visit your ecommerce site from a MID or mobile handset can use the shopping cart you already have. They will type in their credit card number, key in a shipping address, and generally complete the transaction just like any other site visitor. While this is certainly enough, offering a couple of flexible payment options may improve a mobile shopper’s buying experience.

First, consider offering PayPal, Amazon Simple Pay, and Google Checkout as payment options. All of these services allow your customers to make purchases without necessarily typing in a credit card number. While these services do typically require extra steps to complete a checkout process, the fact that a mobile consumer may not have to submit a credit card number could make them worth the effort.

Second, consider offering a mobile-specific payment option like premium SMS-based payments or direct mobile billing. Both of these options charge a customer’s mobile Internet or phone bill for the transaction. As the merchant, you’ll get notification from the mobile service provider that the transaction is complete.

Step No. 4: Market to Mobile Customers

With your website mobile-ready, it is time to add mobile-centric marketing to your marketing and advertising budget. This means considering things like SMS advertising, mobile search ads from Bing, Yahoo!, or Google, and even traditional advertising in locations that are likely to be frequented by mobile users, such as commuter rail stations or airports.


Consumers are increasingly accessing the Internet with various types of mobile devices. It follows that those consumers will shop from the mobile devices, and ecommerce merchants should prepare their sites now for what will surely be next big trend in online shopping.

Armando Roggio
Armando Roggio
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