Loyal to the tradition of delivering bad news first, I will begin by presenting the challenges that online retailers like Lenstore need to face, followed by four insights that are helping us take our mobile strategy to the next level.
Small internet businesses face a significant trade-off in terms of capacity. They can choose to outsource part of their mobile strategy (for example, the creation of a mobile app), or develop specific skills in-house, either by diverting time from core projects to research and training, or by scouring the market for highly sought-after specialists.
Even in the absence of such skill gaps, the risk of stretching capacity to the point of rupture is still very real: websites need to be optimised for different mobile devices – as if desktop browsers weren’t enough! In addition, Google Adwords now treats desktop and mobile advertising differently so marketing teams are being stretched to develop different campaigns to reach the right customers, on the right device, at the right time.
As new smartphones and tablets keep appearing on the market, another question comes to mind: how can online businesses keep up with the pace of technology advancement? Is anticipating new handset models and operating systems feasible – and is it worth the investment? Here’s the bitter truth: there’s no chance to predict what the next cutting-edge mobile device will look like.
Working hard to react to new launches before the competition is as much as can be done by real businesses. I hope the insights below help make your reactions better than those of your competitors.
1. Customers increasingly use mobile technologies (obvious but worth remembering how much more!)
As all-present internet connections allow people to organise their lives with a touch screen, internet consumers enjoy the convenience of no longer being bound to their desks. In a world where online grocery shopping no longer sounds like science fiction, and paying the bills only takes a couple of clicks, there’s no reason why people shouldn’t be able to order contact lenses from a commuter carriage.
At Lenstore, we enable them to do just that, and they seem to appreciate it. Around 25 per cent of all accesses to the Lenstore website come from mobile devices: over double the percentage we registered at this time in 2013. Accesses from tablets have increased from 11 per cent to 18 per cent (if you embrace the view that a tablet isn’t quite a “mobile” device, imagine fitting your desktop PC in your briefcase, and trying to access 3G while travelling to the office. Good luck with that). Numbers don’t lie; if anything, they will grow further. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in a year’s time, twice as many customers accessed our website from a mobile device.
2. Smartphones and tablets – how do you know the sites are working well?
On average our mobile and tablet visitors have 76 per cent and 91 per ecnt of the number of pages views per visit when compared to desktop visitors. My personal view is that any percentage bigger than 70 per cent shows that your mobile and tablet experience is working well – they are close enough to the user journey experienced on the desktop computer – indicating that users are not getting frustrated and giving up too quickly as a result of a poor experience on a smaller device. I hope monitoring that metric helps you!
3. Responsive design enhances convenience and drives performance
There’s much more to website optimisation than just building a neat mobile skin. A successful mobile strategy stems from a thorough knowledge of the customer journey, and a relentless eye for detail.
Customers are quick to lose interest in a website that fails to deliver convenience – be it through a slow-loading page, a broken link, or a counterintuitive structure. No e-commerce entrepreneur worth their salt can afford losing conversions or competitive advantage; we have to offer that convenience, or stand still and watch our mobile strategy sink.
This is why responsive design – building one website, and keeping it flexible to adapt to different devices – should be every front end e-commerce developer’s mantra. In the online retail world, this may mean investing upfront in building flexible designs (using fluid grids, fluid images etc), CSS Media Queries or investing in a design which accounts for touchscreen vs cursor based devices. This adds up to significant time and cost but the conversion rate improvements (not to mention the improved customer interaction with your brand!) should justify the increased technology overhead.
4. The sky is not the limit of mobile – personal interaction is (at least in optics)
Mobile apps offer consumers the possibility of doing things they’d never have thought possible five years ago – from checking in for a flight, to trying on new clothes in a digital fitting room.
Optical retail is slightly different: Lenstore may not need an app as much as Selfridges does, as mobile technologies will never be able to replace the personal contact and tailored advice that customers need from qualified opticians in high street practices.
No online service will ever make up for the expertise of a qualified optician, and Lenstore is on the right path to bridge this gap. Thanks to our work with Vision Express, we can combine the convenience of shopping on-the-go with the professionalism of tailored, in-person clinical advice. Ultimately, the success of our mobile strategy will depend on how well we can adapt this bricks and clicks model to each and every device on the market.
Mitesh Patel is a co-founder of Lenstore.
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