A survey of 1,600 shoppers shows mobile speed, product discovery and checkout are top priorities for improvement among online retailers.

By Kirsten Newbold-Knipp

Kirsten Newbold-Knipp, chief marketing officer at FullStory

As a challenging holiday season approaches, consumers count on using their phones to shop more than ever—but retailers need to close critical performance and functionality gaps to avoid disappointment and lost business.

Nine in 10 (91%) American consumers plan to do just as much or more of their gift shopping online this year than in 2020, according to a recent survey of 1,600 U.S. consumers by FullStory—and the majority will do most of that online shopping on their phones.

Fully 58% of respondents say they use their phones for at least half of their online purchases, while 35% use their phones as their primary online shopping channel. More than a third of those heavy phone users (34%) will shop more online this year than in 2020.

The pandemic has boosted faith in online experiences

This surge in online shopping has resulted from a reliance on the web during the pandemic. Thanks to ongoing supply chain issues and staff shortages that plague the in-store experience, it will only deepen over the holidays.


Fully 88% of survey respondents say online experiences are as good or better than they were before the pandemic; nearly a third (32%) say the digital experience has improved, a percentage that jumps to 40% for mobile-first shoppers.

Those positive impressions are driven in large part by Amazon: the online retailer experienced year-over-year growth of 40% during the height of the pandemic, and four in five (80%) survey respondents now say they’ll start searching for holiday gifts on Amazon.

By contrast, consumers believe the experience of shopping in stores has deteriorated since the pandemic began, with 46% of respondents saying stores have gotten worse and only 12% saying they’ve improved. Most survey respondents are already experiencing out-of-stock items and sizes and difficulty finding store associates to help them.


Mobile problems are prevalent—and have lasting repercussions

Though consumers rely heavily on their phones to shop, they report more glitches and errors when shopping on mobile than when using computers or laptops. A litany of complaints is familiar to all of us who shop in-app: misdirected landing pages, painfully slow search, dead-end navigation, unexplained cart crashes, and more. Even worse, many desktop features we rely on, such as filter by size or color, are often clunky on mobile, if they are available at all. Nearly half of survey respondents (46%) say they encounter more poor shopping experiences on their phones than on PCs, while another 27% say they experience problems equally on both types of devices.

That’s unfortunate because most consumers—especially heavy phone users—are unlikely to shop again with a retailer after a poor online experience. While 55% of survey respondents won’t return to a site after encountering glitches or other problems, that percentage jumps to 62% for mobile-first users.

Moreover, the holidays are an especially bad time to test shoppers’ patience with faulty websites. Three in 10 (30%) survey respondents overall—and 33% of mobile-first shoppers—find site glitches and errors more frustrating during the peak holiday season than at other times of the year. Just 7% of all consumers are more tolerant of site problems during the holiday rush.


The upshot? With the holiday season potentially challenged by so many events beyond retailers’ control, they must eliminate the problems they can fix—and perfecting the mobile experience should be at the top of the list.

Here are three key priorities for retailers to focus on:

1. Boost mobile site speed 

 For mobile-first shoppers, the most frequent problems they encounter are site pages that fail to load, take too long to appear, or are missing; 42% of heavy phone shoppers say this phenomenon is common, compared with 35% of shoppers overall. Retailers should optimize images and test content delivery network connections to ensure assets load quickly. If offered, they should also consider boosting the speed of free in-store Wi-Fi to encourage the usage of branded online resources as enhancements to the store shopping experience.


2. Conform to mobile best practices for product discovery and layout

 Phone shoppers more often encounter a host of problems finding information: 41% often can’t locate the right products and sizes, compared with the survey average of 35%, and mobile-first shoppers also report navigation problems and difficulty finding shipping information at a higher rate than respondents overall.

At the same time, heavy mobile users are more than twice as likely to say that they encounter fewer problems shopping on phones than when using computers or laptops—26%, compared with just 12% of survey respondents overall. This tendency for heavier users to find shopping on phones easier suggests that familiarity is crucial: if retailers adhere to commonly accepted best practices for the design and layout of popular features, they can help shoppers “learn” their sites faster. Prominent SKU options and shipping timelines, carousel-type displays that enable swiping and scrolling, and expandable accordion layouts all help prioritize and ease access to information.

3. Test and re-test mobile checkout 

 More than 30% of shoppers report problems with the online cart and checkout. 36% of heavy mobile users and 35% of respondents say they commonly encounter gift or promo codes that don’t work when they enter them. In comparison, 34% of shoppers overall and 31% of mobile-first shoppers say they commonly experience stalled transactions. Retailers should test integrations with alternative payment providers such as PayPal or Klarna and provide helpful gift code error messages, such as pop-up alternatives encouraging shoppers to join the email list in exchange for an instant discount. In addition, tap-to-call buttons and live chat links should be prominently displayed, with proactive chat sessions triggered when customers encounter problems.


Seamless mobile experiences will set you apart

Consumers are counting on mobile shopping to help them navigate what promises to be a challenging holiday season. Merchants who reward this faith with stable, swift, and seamless mobile experiences will not only win holiday sales but earn lasting loyalty.

FullStory is a digital analytics technology vendor that helps retailers understand and improve the digital experiences of shoppers.