The shift to a mobile web has many ecommerce merchants wondering what their options are. Should they develop a mobile-optimized site that can be displayed by common web browsers? Or, should they develop platform-specific applications for iPhone and Android devices? And, importantly, how much does the process cost?
MobilizeToday.com is a web development firm that specializes in making sites mobile friendly. The firm has offices in New York and Ukraine. Taihei Nagamine is a developer with MobileToday.com, and we corresponded with him on common questions that we believe merchants have concerning the process of developing mobile versions of their sites. Our questions, and his responses, are below.
What are the biggest obstacles to creating mobile-optimized sites for ecommerce firms?
“Many ecommerce sites use outdated platforms, such as the use of frames that can be difficult to transfer to a mobile platform.”
What are the biggest mistakes the ecommerce firms typically make when they create a mobile-optimized version?
“Many merchants choose to develop only mobile applications (basically for iPhone and/or Android), without providing a mobile-optimized website. We think that is a mistake.
“Not all potential buyers are willing to install the application onto their phones. It is suitable for regular customers. But what about those who intend to make just one purchase, and want to do it immediately? That is why many major store owners offer both options.
“A mobile optimized option site is more affordable. But it does have some limitations compared to a desktop version. A mobile site cannot replicate all the benefits of its desktop counterpart. To be useful, it should have less content, smaller size, and a more convenient order form. Remember, mobile phones have smaller screen sizes, low bandwidth Internet connections, it’s more difficult to enter text, and so forth. Unfortunately, many online store owners forget about it, and out of habit, are trying to fit on a tiny page with a plenty of contents, banners and background information. This is, in my view, the fundamental mistake. Often, an overabundance of content will cause mobile users to leave the site.”
Should every ecommerce site have a mobile version? For example, what if a site sells large, complicated, expensive items?
“It depends on the target audience of the ecommerce website. Each store owner should realize what type of clientele he or she is dealing with.
“For example, if you sell pizza, what are the chances that your customers at the time of making a purchase are located near the computer with an Internet connection? And how much more likely that they have a mobile phone that is web enabled?
“Regarding the large and expensive items, even if the probability of purchase is much lower than that of others, it will be helpful to allow mobile users to browse items and read the details about them. How much time do you spend before making an expensive purchase? If I have a chance to read more about the desired item while I’m away from my desktop computer or notebook, isn’t that a good idea? This increases the likelihood of purchase. So I think having a mobile-optimized web store in this case makes sense.”
You’ve stated that certain sites are more easily optimized than others. Could you please explain?
“We are talking about optimizing websites by adding a mobile CSS. This is the mobile optimization method, when we use the same content as for the main website, but apply other styles to make it mobile friendly. This approach can be applied only to sites that have top-level web technologies in accordance to W3C standards, such as having separated content (HTML) from the presentation (CSS), with applied search engine optimization rules.
“Those who invested in creating well made websites benefit, because such a site is much easier to make accessible to mobile users.”
What’s the advantage of creating a mobile-optimized site, versus an application for iPhone or Android?
“Creating an application is much more expensive than creating a mobile optimized website. Mobile sites have cross-browser capabilities that make it possible to use in the popular platforms like iPhone and Android, and also other devices such as BlackBerry, Palm, Windows Phone, Samsung Bada, MeeGo and Symbian.
“I believe that the future belongs to web solutions, not applications. Modern phones tend to support more web standards and technologies, including HTML5, digital audio and video. The performance of mobile phones is growing. And most importantly, the web-based solutions are guided by common standards, while the applications are made exclusively for a specific device or even a specific version.”
Describe the process that your firm goes through to create a mobile-optimized site. What are the steps?
“First we look at how the website is made. Several factors influence our decision as to how to proceed from there. Among them are the quality of the original HTML, content that is not supported or difficult to operate on mobile devices such as Flash, an excess of video or audio data on the same page, large images, a huge amount of textual data like lists, and so on.
“After that, we offer our clients a solution or several alternative options. For some, we propose using mobile CSS. For others, we suggest creating a separate mobile version of the website.
“Creating mobile websites involves the creation of touch-screen friendly design for small screens. For low-budget projects, we offer the use of generic templates for the mobile version.
“Once the client approves the design, we create a mobile CSS according to existing content or make a separate version of the site optimized for mobile phones. After that, the site is tested on real devices according to the compatibility options chosen by the client.”
Should a mobile-optimized site work on a cell connection, as well as Wi-Fi?
“Until we get a 100 percent free Wi-Fi coverage over the planet, there will always be places where your customers will be stuck with only Edge or 3G coverage. So, definitely, any mobile optimized website should assume network bandwidth as a real constraint and develop and test website optimization accordingly. Luckily, almost all modern mobile web platforms support AJAX (and/or HTML5 web sockets) that facilitates lightweight pages and smooth loading over a cell connection.”
How much could an ecommerce merchant expect to pay to have his site mobile optimized by your firm, and how long does the process take?
“Starting from $25 per month for real time conversion of the ecommerce website through the service hosted by our company or starting from $600 for manual onetime optimization of an average ecommerce website. The best way to receive a quote is to submit the request at our website.
“Mobile design takes up to five business days. Further work depends on website complexity and may take three business days or more.
“For merchants who want to develop a mobile site, choose standards-oriented solutions rather than platform oriented ones. Don’t be scared if you have an old-style coded website. If it works on a desktop, we can make it work on mobile phones.”