Consumers will shop from mobile devices more than ever, and with 5G still under development in most areas retailers must plan on optimizing the user experience at current 4G speeds. Keeping on top of mobile data and optimizing video content to prevent it from slowing down mobile sites and apps are among the ways retailers can keep holiday shoppers engaged while they shop on mobile devices.

Chris Wraight, director of industry marketing, Akamai.

Chris Wraight, director of industry marketing, Akamai.

Across devices, mediums and platforms, next-gen innovations are enabling retailers to reach consumers in new ways and at unprecedented scale. Mobile sits at the top of the digital hierarchy and will continue to dominate as the world’s most popular way to access the Internet. During the 2018 holiday shopping season, mobile outpaced desktop for the first time when it came to online orders, and it’s expected to comprise nearly 75 percent of total ecommerce transactions by 2021.

Despite the growth of mobile in e-commerce, retailers still have work to do when it comes to ensuring quality and consistent experiences across mobile devices, browsers and apps. In fact, reports show that 53 percent of people abandon a site that takes more than three seconds to load, and 25 percent of people say they would drop a brand due to unacceptable page load times.

Consumers expect mobile sites and apps to be user-friendly, aesthetically pleasing and, above all, fast.

Beyond speed, consumers also expect mobile apps to function as an independent system where users can research, virtually try on items and make and return purchases. They also expect to be able to seamlessly transfer the shopping information their research has provided to a new “location,” like a tablet or desktop browser to complete their transaction.

This holiday shopping season, the stakes are higher than ever for retailers to provide a superior mobile experience to their users. All of the investments in mobile applications and optimization are for naught if customers go to a competitor offering a better user experience (UX)—and, ultimately, give that competitor their business.

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Here are some of the key considerations retailers should keep top of mind to optimize the mobile experience they provide their customers—and mitigate any potential UX hiccups—this holiday season.

Leverage real user data analytics

 A recent Harvard Business Review report shows that only 22 percent of enterprises have access to real-time metrics that impact customer experience—meaning, the majority of businesses don’t have the visibility they need to react to performance issues in real time or accurately optimize customers’ digital experiences. With that, it’s critical for retailers to have access to real-time user data—instead of relying on only test-agent measured synthetic data—in order to pinpoint mobile performance issues and resolve them quickly.

Your real user data offers a 360-degree view of site traffic, individual customer experiences, page-specific performance and overall user behavior. For instance, real user data can show retailers if customers are stalled on the transaction page after viewing a particular item. Back-end operators can then zero in on individual experiences to see where the problem is, whether the site or app is crashing at the point of payment due to performance issues with a third-party payment provider, if there is a price discrepancy or if customers are being told the product is no longer available when, in fact, there are sufficient quantities in inventory.

Just as consumer data is critical to driving personalized experiences, retailers must have access to information indicating how consumers engage with their mobile sites and apps in order to quickly identify problems, automatically remediate them and ultimately reduce downtime—something that can be “make or break” during the holiday shopping season.

Balance aesthetics with performance

 In addition to targeted and streamlined experiences, consumers also expect mobile sites and apps to be user-friendly, aesthetically pleasing and, above all, fast. While retailers need to prepare for potential delays associated with visitor overload (especially on peak traffic days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday), they also need to anticipate any snafus that might occur due to content overload.

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For example, more shoppers are looking to video to help make purchasing decisions. Short-form product videos can drastically increase conversions, but video content is data-rich and weighs down site load times, especially on mobile apps and browsers. With that, it’s critical for retailers to strike a balance between what consumers want in terms of visually compelling and cutting-edge browsing experiences, while also meeting their expectations for unrivaled app and mobile web page speed and reliability.

By leveraging image- and video-management automation software, it’s possible for brands to transcode and deliver short-form videos and imagery with the optimal quality, resolution and format tailored for every device and browser, without sacrificing speed and performance on high-traffic shopping days.

4G vs. 5G considerations

 The approach of 5G promises to deliver new and faster wireless connections through which brands will be able to dramatically improve shopper CX—in which case, many of the concerns around heavy video content slowing down site and app performance may very well become obsolete. But the fact is, 5G isn’t here yet and won’t be for some time.

In the meantime, the success of the 2019 holiday shopping season depends on retailers’ abilities to optimize the 4G experience, on which more than 71 percent of networks will continue to run by 2022. One of the ways that retailers can enhance the 4G mobile experience is by leveraging consumers’ location data in real time to send targeted discounts and promotions.

For instance, if a shopper stands in the shoe section at their local Target for several minutes, retailers could send a coupon to their mobile app, incentivizing them to buy a pair of shoes. This is just one example of how retailers can not only enhance customer experiences with the network speeds and bandwidths currently available, but also blend the best of the online and digital shopping worlds.

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All this goes to show that retailers have a bit of back-end housekeeping to do if they want to provide streamlined, personalized, visually appealing and data-driven mobile experiences this holiday season—especially ahead of widespread 5G availability. It’s important for retailers to leverage the resources they have today or obtain new solutions capable of getting up and running quickly—from consumer data, to AI, to performance metrics—to optimize mobile, enhance CX and boost loyalty ahead of the holidays and for many holidays to come.

Akamai Technologies provides content delivery network services to 345 of the 1,000 leading online retailers in North America as ranked In the Internet Retailer 2019 Top 1000.

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