While more consumers now shop on smartphones, retailers have a lot of work to do to make mobile shopping easy. Developers must account for the wide variety of mobile hardware and software, take into account how consumers use their phones in stores and ensure easy checkout.

Chris Wraight, director of industry marketing, Akamai Technologies

Chris Wraight, director of industry marketing, Akamai Technologies

The cheer and good spirits of the holiday shopping season carefully conceal the real competition raging between retailers behind the scenes. Only the brands that focus on mobile will survive as Forrester’s 2018 Retail Best Practices: Mobile Web study found that smartphones will be used in over one-third of total U.S. retail sales at some point in the buying process this year.

Even computer- and browser-based shopping are slowly making way for mobile devices. The recent State of Online Retail report from Akamai found that brands need to focus on mobile apps in particular, as consumer preference for the convenience of mobile has had a significant impact on revenue. On Black Friday 2017, mobile devices accounted for more than 50 percent of retail traffic seen by Akamai. These devices not only drove more traffic but also showed a greater increase in conversion rates from the previous year, up 71 percent while desktop and tablet rates remained flat.

Not only do organizations need to address the big differences between Apple iOS and Android, but also the differences between different Android deployments.

Despite the increasing prevalence of mobile use for online shopping, there is still a lot of room for improvement in making mobile a strong platform for retail. The State of Online Retail report found several challenges retailers will have to overcome to make the most of mobile device shopping. For one, the massive diversity of mobile devices, especially on an international scale, means lots of fine-tuning to make sure the platform works consistently for all users. At the same time, users on mobile devices have the highest bounce rate of all platforms. Both of these factors contribute to user frustration when mobile devices fail to load quickly enough for easy use.

Fortunately, there is still plenty of time for organizations to fine-tune their mobile properties for the Black Friday deadline if their IT teams know what to focus on.

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Understanding mobile vs. desktop

Fundamentally, mobile users interact with their devices differently than desktops, relying on short bursts of interaction throughout the day instead of long stretches of engagement. This means that speed and performance are essential for positive user experiences.

To address this challenge, retail IT teams and developers need to make sure they have addressed the necessary major strategies of mobile optimization upfront. They can achieve this by paying attention to factors like page and image size and customizing delivery depending on the receiving device, location and connectivity. Together these factors make sure that users can access the content in a pleasant user experience.

Avoid user frustration at all costs

Setting up the infrastructure and back end for optimized mobile experiences is only part of the battle. Retail IT teams also need to stay alert and make sure that everything is working as planned. Constant monitoring of delivered content can help this.

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With frequent visibility into end-user experiences, mobile app development teams can avoid user frustration by understanding what is going well and, more importantly, what is going wrong. They need to see what end users are seeing and experiencing on their mobile devices in order to address problems in real time before they impact revenue. To accomplish this, mobile app development teams need to monitor the performance of specific processes as experienced by the end user to get granular insight into the cause of roadblocks and bottlenecks and how they impact user behavior and buying patterns. With this information regarding ‘perceived performance’ from the user’s perspective, they can prioritize what to optimize based on business impact to positively impact revenue.

Tackling device diversity

Developing content for mobile means taking into account the full landscape of devices available for users. Not only do organizations need to address the big differences between Apple iOS and Android, but also the differences between different Android deployments. Because the Android platform is a lot more open than iOS, there are dozens of versions of the operating system in use across hundreds of different devices.

Each device is slightly different in critical specifications such as screen size, processing power, storage, ram, connectivity options and more around the world. For example, many of the most popular Android devices in Asia do not meet the computing power available on flagship models available in the U.S. Being conscious of this fact allows IT teams to adjust their localized versions of the app, such as removing extra Javascript elements or simplifying web designs. With the holiday shopping season becoming more and more global, these international device considerations are especially key to retailers’ success this year.

Omnichannel all the time

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Shopping has become a much more convoluted, cross-channel experience with the rise of the Internet, and in particular, mobile browsing. In-store shopping is much more involved than it used to be; we no longer simply go to the store and pick out what we need. Now shoppers take an omnichannel approach to buying, walking through stores with phone in hand, comparing prices and researching alternatives. Mobile developers need to make sure they are prepared to support this multichannel experience for customers, offering seamless integrations across mobile, desktop and in-store platforms.

Checking out, not checked out

The final step to making investments in mobile shopping experiences worthwhile is making it easy for customers to convert browsing time to a sale. Since the primary benefit of shopping via a mobile device is the convenience, the check-out feature needs to be designed for people on the go. Successful examples like the “skip the line” or “mobile order” features in the Starbucks app show how developers can use mobile devices to improve on seemingly simple transactions.

It is clear that mobile experiences are crucial to the future of digital retail. Businesses that are hoping to make a splash this holiday season and increase their visitors and ultimately, revenues, will need to embrace mobile and make sure that their product is always accessible for on-the-go customers. There are a lot of challenges to overcome, but none of them are insurmountable with attention to the right factors.

Akamai provides content delivery network services to 354 of the Top 1000 online retailers in North America.

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