A smartphone may be small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but the effect it's having on ecommerce is anything but tiny. Just in sheer volume, mobile devices—and the consumers who use them—are fundamentally changing how businesses approach shopping.
"For a lot of companies, mobile traffic is starting to take the lion's share of overall site traffic," says David Fay, content marketing strategist at Mobify, a company that helps make websites mobile-friendly. "Combined traffic from smartphones and tablets regularly surpasses 50 percent of all traffic."
Turn Mobile Consumers into Mobile Customers
It's the new reality; small businesses that have not yet realized the value of a good mobile Web experience need to get it done now—or risk losing customers. And those that have will need to step up their game and improve the overall experience. It also means that those walking, talking shoppers are ripe for emerging technologies such as location-based tracking and deals.
"When you use your mobile device, the installed apps you use—or the websites you visit—report your location data back to the respective sites," says Sean Mahoney, president and CEO of AndPlus, a mobile-focused custom software company. Retailers now have the ability to know where shoppers are when they're evaluating products, comparing prices and even clicking the "buy" button.
For example, it may be possible to triangulate a mobile shopper's location inside a brick-and-mortar store. That consumer could be comparing products while standing in front of the display—reading reviews, bringing up warranty information or checking to see if the price the store charges is in line with other retailers. This treasure trove of data gives SMBs a better chance of offering incentives or information at just the right moment, and thereby converting those shoppers into buyers.
The Challenges of Mobile Ecommerce
But the proliferation of devices creates an enormous challenge for small business owners. As mobile devices advance and proliferate, so do consumer expectations for how well their device interacts with mobile platforms. "As the pace of change accelerates, it's more important than ever to make sure your website can respond to new mobile devices and technologies," says Mobify's Fay.
Many mobile ecommerce websites continue to support early technologies, which may address the needs of a wide variety of devices (including relatively old smartphones), but it doesn't always provide the level of support most consumers expect.
"This technology makes it difficult to maintain content parity between different versions of the site, develop new features, integrate new marketing software and deliver advanced functionality to mobile devices," Fay explains. Businesses must weigh interoperability against functionality, and strike a balance that may leave some consumers with a less-than-ideal mobile experience.
Maintaining good security can also be a challenge, particularly for small businesses, which very often rely on technology partners to manage critical portions of the ecommerce experience. AndPlus' Mahoney points to the havoc and confusion caused by the recent Heartbleed bug, which affected companies from tiny etailers to enormous firms with technology budgets in the many millions of dollars.
Consumers expect robust security and, Mahoney says, "If you make the decision to implement user data or personal information within the mobile application, just make sure you choose the right partner—a company that will stay on top of security releases and understand what to do and how to respond if and when a security issue does come up." No matter where a security gap happens, the retailer will be the first place consumers look if their information is compromised.
Use Mobile Ecommerce to Boost Business
As mobile's effect on ecommerce expands, small businesses should look for ways to make the most of what consumers want. Shoppers now expect to use their mobile devices in place of a desktop and, Fay says, "SMBs need to invest time thinking about what a strong mobile experience for their company looks like. They need to make sure they're meeting customer expectations on different devices."
Doing so may help smaller companies maintain a competitive advantage, even against big retailers. Mobile consumers will often abandon or avoid websites that don't offer a good mobile experience. "Companies that provide a great mobile experience are much more likely to convert and retain the increasing number of mobile shoppers," says Fay.
When a small business decides to expand its ecommerce reach with new mobile tools, Mahoney says a focused strategy is important. He suggests rolling out and perfecting just one approach aimed at changing the way consumers interact with your brand. "Then move on to other new ideas that you have, while benefiting—and profiting—from the changes you've made."
With your mobile strategy, as with anything, it's better to try one thing and do it well than to try many things and do them poorly.
Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from foodservice to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractor magazine.
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