What Will it Take to Improve the Mobile Shopping Experience?

The eye-popping statistics that permeated this month’s eTail West event made one thing clear: growth in mobile usage and mobile transactions has exceeded just about everyone's expectations. That’s cause for celebration for companies like online travel agency hotwire.com whose head of mobile, Melissa Matross, spoke about how the company has “leaned into the mobile web” from the beginning. Yet many companies are only now discovering unique challenges as their customers pursue all things mobile at escalating rates.

The dizzying array of devices that have entered the mobile ecosystem are bringing unprecedented complexity to the design process in particular. Responsive design is gaining favor with many marketers as it allows them to instantly adapt websites to device differences and resolve compatibility issues. Dell views responsive design as a mandate, since, according to its director of global mobile, Brandon McGee, designing specific applications for all of its business units in 160 countries and across all mobile devices is “impossible and not scalable.”

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Domenic Venneri, lead designer for street wear brand Stussy, agrees. According to Venneri, responsive design offers Stussy’s web designers the ultimate freedom to do what they do best within optimized parameters.

Marketers are also tracking a closer behavioral alignment between desktops and tablets, even as the latter's status as a "mobile" device remains an area of contention. Disney VP Elissa Margolis referred to this synergy between desktop and tablets as a "fat finger" sensibility. Mr. McGee cited it as a reason why companies can get away with using "slightly optimized" versions of their websites for tablets.

According to Tom Leighton, CEO of the cloud platform Akamai, mobile users expect sites to load in five seconds or less and the 30 fastest internet sites load in only two. By contrast, the top 30 mobile sites clock in at a sluggish average of nine seconds, a rate that compares with where traditional websites were in 2001. He cited several reasons, but emphasized that mobile is operating off of an infrastructure that was built for transmitting voices rather than bandwidth-hungry, multi-media content.

Unfortunately, shoppers' expectations have not dialed down accordingly. Mr. Leighton cautioned that abandonment rates escalate with every second, with four-five seconds marking a precipitous drop-off. Adding to the pressure, shoppers increasingly expect mobile sites to offer the rich experiences and full functionality that they've grown accustomed to on their desktops.

Dave Borrowman, senior director of product management at Gap, summed up the challenge by saying the mobile experience can no longer be reduced; it must be optimized.

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Marketers are pursuing a variety of strategies for mitigating mobile pain points, including adding bigger response buttons and text fields, providing optimized keyboards for numeric entries and ensuring that, as they move between devices, visitors' shopping experiences pick up where they left off.

Read Carol's other E tail West articles:

Retailers Stretch Social Media Strategies

Disney Store Makes Digital Magic.

Prescient Points from E tail West. Wrap-up of Carol's favorite moments from the show.

Retail Wire ran an edited version of this article. Check out the discussion.