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What Will It Take to Improve the Mobile Shopping Experience?

March 6, 2013

Carol Spieckerman reported this story on behalf of RetailWire. To see more of her commentary and analysis, visit the newmarketbuilders retail blog.

The eye-popping statistics that permeated last week's eTail West event made one thing clear: growth in mobile usage and mobile transactions has exceeded just about everyone's expectations. Yet many companies are only now discovering unique challenges as their customers pursue all things mobile at escalating rates.

The dizzying array of devices that have entered the mobile ecosystem are bringing unprecedented complexity to the design process in particular. Responsive design is gaining favor with many marketers as it allows them to instantly adapt websites to device differences and resolve compatibility issues. Dell views responsive design as a mandate, since, according to its director of global mobile, Brandon McGee, designing specific applications for all of its business units in 160 countries and across all mobile devices is "impossible and not scalable."

Marketers are also tracking a closer behavioral alignment between desktops and tablets, even as the latter's status as a "mobile" device remains an area of contention. Disney VP Elissa Margolis referred to this synergy between desktop and tablets as a "fat finger" sensibility. Mr. McGee cited it as a reason why companies can get away with using "slightly optimized" versions of their websites for tablets.

According to Tom Leighton, CEO of the cloud platform Akamai, mobile users expect sites to load in five seconds or less and the 30 fastest internet sites load in only two. By contrast, the top 30 mobile sites clock in at a sluggish average of nine seconds, a rate that compares with where traditional websites were in 2001.

Unfortunately, shoppers' expectations have not dialed down accordingly. Mr. Leighton cautioned that abandonment rates escalate with every second, with four-five seconds marking a precipitous drop-off. Adding to the pressure, shoppers increasingly expect mobile sites to offer the rich experiences and full functionality that they've grown accustomed to on their desktops.

Dave Borrowman, senior director of product management at Gap, summed up the challenge by saying the mobile experience can no longer be reduced; it must be optimized.

Marketers are pursuing a variety of strategies for mitigating mobile pain points, including adding bigger response buttons and text fields, providing optimized keyboards for numeric entries and ensuring that, as they move between devices, visitors' shopping experiences pick up where they left off.


Discussion Questions:

What pain points still need to be resolved before mobile truly takes off as a shopping tool? What steps around design and function are still needed to optimize the mobile shopping experience?

While we value unfettered opinion, we urge you to show respect and courtesy for people or companies about whom you comment. Keep in mind that this is a public, professional business discussion. RetailWire reserves the right to edit or refuse the publication of remarks that we deem unsuitable. We may also correct for unintended spelling and grammatical errors.

Instant Poll:

Generally, how would you compare the shopping experience on mobile devices to computer-based experiences?


This article does an excellent job of summarizing pain points. A huge pain point for the shopper, I think, is the issue that every retailer has its own app that shoppers are supposed to download and keep track of. There's a market opportunity for an Amazon-like app that works across multiple retailers and platforms. I for one can't keep track of all the icons on my smartphone and over time there are only 3 or 4 that I use regularly.

With the emergence of the mobile wallet i believe we'll see the emergence of technology that helps a shopper pay and engage with the retailers he or she loves most: across commerce, social and loyalty.

Lisa Bradner, Chief Strategy Officer, Geomentum/Shopper Sciences

The mobile shopping experience, the in-store shopping experience and the online shopping experience all have to be the same. The same product, the same pricing and the same policies such as for returns. This is truly the Omni-channel experience.

The technology will be improved, it always gets better and cheaper. Smartphones are the new normal and will continue to control our lives in one way or another. Shopping has to be easy, fun, and always rewarding when using the phone.

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Frank Riso, Principal, Frank Riso Associates, LLC

The mobile brand experience must be a valued extension of the website, not simply a mobile version of the website. The content then needs to be designed and optimized for the mobile experience. Brands need to understand that shoppers are using and searching the web at home on their computers long before they enter a brick n mortar store. This all begins, as Google defines it, as the Zero Moment of Truth (ZMOT). The mobile experience comes later in the shopping journey and needs to be designed as such.

Understanding where mobile can bring the greatest value to the shopping journey is critical to its acceptance and broader use. Making it simple and easy is an understatement. Understanding the value and limitation of this medium can dramatically improve the experience and acceptance from your shoppers. It's a safe assumption that most people don't 'read' advertising and promotion (as well as most anything for that matter!) much anymore. Optimizing the content for the mobile experience is also important. Use imagery and icons extensively.

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Adrian Weidmann, Principal, StoreStream Metrics, LLC

Recruiting good technology talent is the current pain point.

While every other industry is chasing tech talent worldwide for a technology skillset, does anyone seriously see job openings anywhere for retail technology talent?

Innovation labs are cute, but it is necessary to have retail technology talent such as a CTO to be on the sales floor, interacting with existing touchpoints and identifying opportunities for innovation and improvements for retailers.

While I see job listings for mobile app developers, I do not see any job openings for Retail CTO or retail IT talent for mobile; correct me if I'm wrong.

Ed Dunn, Founder, (Stealth Operation)

Their desktop/laptop experience have shaped consumer expectations and they expect the same ease and functionality in their mobile devices. Consumers also expect to be able to use mobile devices to facilitate checkout and update loyalty programs. Retailers need to meet these expectations or risk losing sales.

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Max Goldberg, President, Max Goldberg & Associates

This article focuses on some of the "mechanical" issues that encumbers the mobile web. They are addressable through good design, coding, and platform choice. The bigger issue for optimization of mobile shopping experiences is the value-add for consumers. For internet only merchants, there's a smaller palette of options than for b&m retailers. For those with a physical store, there's an expansive opportunity to incorporate mobile capabilities that will enhance shopping and the value of a destination that no e-tail only competitor can touch. The power of technology, place, and physical merchandise combined in creative ways that deliver useful and memorable experiences for consumers is the only future for retail mobile.

It's something that the kiosk industry always hoped for, but was never positioned for.

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Ken Lonyai, Digital Innovation Strategist, co-founder, ScreenPlay InterActive

Few if any have done a better job at making mobile useful to the customer than Starbucks. It is much more than just about shopping. It is much more about making the mobile device an enhancement to the shopping experience. Yes, it is a tool. However, all tools have a purpose.

Many look at the device as an extension of other forms of electronic communication. It is much more. It is different. It is unique.

My suggestion to best optimize the use of the tool is to begin at the customer and work backwards. As design and function are considered, place yourself in positions throughout the store and ask how could the tool assist at that point in the shopping experience. More importantly, ask your customer. Don't make assumptions. Get out there with them and ask them. Go through their experience with them.

Retailers have likely not even uncovered 1% of what the device could do to enhance the experience. Your customers have something right in their hand that could change the entire game. Walk along with them around the bases and let them teach you how you can connect, assist them, change your experience, and improve their lives just because they came through your door.

It is amazing that today that entering your door could be through so many different entrances. No matter which way they make entry, there is a greater opportunity than ever before to connect, improve, change, and enhance their experience.


Mobile apps must be easy for the retail associate and their customers and the retailers must have the bandwidth to support them. Once those issues are handled, retailers must learn restraint when connecting with their customers who have chosen to interact. Some retailers tag customers a couple of times a day! Not good.

Mobile apps inside brick and mortar retail need to enhance the in-store experience and assist associate engagement with the customer in front of them. Purely internet-like engagements will only make the customer wonder why they bothered making the trip.

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Marge Laney, President, Alert Technologies, Inc.

While the factors mentioned are certainly critical to the growth of mobile commerce, the content must be compelling, also, to drive people to the sites. Scrolling through meaningless content on sites while trying to get to the "meat" on your hand held device is frustrating, especially while your phone is not in a 4G area.

So, there are external factors that also count. Mobile signal coverage within malls, outlying and mountainous regions, etc. all matter as this channel grows.

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Ralph Jacobson, Global Retail Industry Analytics Marketing Executive, IBM

While the article covers some key points associated with the extension of traditional websites to the mobile devices (such as the same pricing as other channels and efficient download times), it does not address the experience that is intuitively expected by the user on a mobile device.

Specifically, the mobile experience is fundamentally different from a traditional online web-based experience in that the device physically travels into the store and thereby creates a significantly different opportunity for the retailer. When a shopper is inside the store, the physical brick & mortar experience of that store is the primary influence. The mobile component should augment and enhance that experience—not deliver a resized/optimized/etc. ecommerce site.

From the research that we've done, connecting the digital benefits with the real store enhances shopper engagement 5 times. The design of in-store mobile experiences starts from the store itself, and not the legacy ecommerce website.

Todd Sherman, Managing Partner, T3C Partners

I, like so many others, have my smartphone nearby at all times. Watching TV can inspire me to look something up. At this point, I know the limitations of my smartphone and I don't have really high expectations when using it to surf. If I have WiFi, then it will be better, but I know I will have to blow up the page to click on buttons and back down to see the whole page. Much of this could be averted with design specific to the smartphone size.

However, I do understand why many retailers will wait this one out. They need to see the way we chair surfers actually want to interact. Now get this clear retailers, we DON'T want an app for every store! I believe the answer lies in knowing the right content (back to knowing how the consumer wants to interact on each device), some standardization and a single entry pin number for payment.

Lee Kent, Sharing Insights for Success in Retail, YourRetailAuthority

It is not a point of pain. It is truly an opportunity that must be seized with vigor and true innovation to be applied. Thinking of leveraging mobile and that it should be patterned after the e-commerce website is wrongheaded. Instead, it must be leveraged based on its own unique attributes and how the brand engaged customer lives their life. That is why innovators such as Starbucks, American Eagle Outfitters and others are thought to be "doing it right."

Adapt or die or at minimum lose out to those who are optimizing this new channel for all the right reasons.

David Slavick, Director, Loyalty & Retention, FTD.com

Shopper/Store interactions will benefit from enhanced information attribution (and that's a lot of work). How about an initiative between vendors and store designers to add information to the stuff inside and around the store? The initiative needs to have a demand side focus, not a supply side focus. Think of it as floor ready merchandise 2.0.

Regarding your question, a mobile application needs to add value (as mentioned earlier). This article made me pause for a moment to think about what I believe we are working on and I threw in some other imaginations (probably already in the works as well). It was more of a note to self, but perhaps it might be interesting to some.

Stuff we are doing today:
- I am here to pick this up.
- do you have this?
-"Where is it?" indoor mapping
- Self checkout
- Chat and Feedback
- Share my location with my social network, share what I purchased.
- Check in to the store for loyalty card credits.
- Schedule a genius appointment
- "where did I park my car?"
- price comparisons

Here are some ideas for other applications:

  1. "Drop in now" is a mobile app - it helps you decide whether or not to visit a store - it looks at where you are, and determines the hassle related to visiting the store (traffic, parking, downtown events) it may also tell you if your favorite sales associate is in the store and special rewards if you come in.
  2. "schlepper" - schlepper offers delivery assistance for those challenged with car size, or if the are using public transit, or it's late, or they are walking. commuter, walking)
  3. "Bookmark" - Bookmark is a wish list application that starts in the store, it helps manage the journey from ZMOT to acquisition. Perhaps it might remind you during a future visit that the item you once had a interest in is on sale or has been improved.
  4. "Shelf Expert" - Every department has a unarticulated narrative - shelf expert is like a museum guide, it tells you what the category manager/buyer/curator had in mind behind their choices of brands and products.
  5. "People who bought this bought that" - Help me with recommendations,
  6. "Long tail assistance" - slow movers can be the basis of a relationship, provide extra content when slow movers are being considered.

Vahe Katros, Consultant, Plan B

Optimization of the mobile shopping experience is perhaps too short-sighted as the majority of websites are still not e-centric, e-friendly, or have even moved past an electronic "store." Once websites are built e-centric, and have changed their business model to suit (like Amazon, Zappos and others), then adjusting the platform hooks to replicate the viewing screen and access of a mobile device is minimal.

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Kai Clarke, CEO, American Retail Consultants

Seamless integration between all the channels is key to mobile shopping's success. For example, if I buy something online and want to verify the shipping status later that day from my mobile device, the latter should contain completely updated information—as should the store systems, if I happen to drop by and ask for the status. It may be technically challenging, but it is what shoppers want because it makes it convenient for them.

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Alexander Rink, CEO, 360pi

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