When the iPhone arrived in the summer of 2007, it wasn’t immediately clear that it would revolutionize the mobile industry.
The device cost $600, significantly more expensive than the prevailing feature phones and Blackberrys. The PDAs that came before it were not wildly successful, and nor were the first smart phones. Therefore, it is not surprising that the iPhone release did not inspire brands to adapt their websites for mobile access.
However, nine years after the release of the iPhone, most brands still do not gracefully handle mobile visitors to their websites.
Smartphone and tablet growth
Many brands have been slow to respond to the mobile market, but over the past six years no one anticipated how quickly customers would adopt the smartphone or how necessary it would be to build mobile friendly ecommerce sites. Now consumers rejoice at being continually connected to the web. They no longer wait to get home or to the office to research and complete a purchase.
As mobile data connection speeds continue to improve, suddenly customers are able to purchase instantly, at exactly the moment they want to do so. Purchasing decisions can be made at any time, such as waiting in line at the grocery store or commuting to work. And the trend only appears to be accelerating. According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index, global mobile data traffic has more than doubled every year from 2007-2011.
“Global mobile data traffic in 2011 (597 petabytes per month) was eight times greater than the total global internet traffic in 2000 (75 petabytes per month).” (source)
Cisco expects mobile data traffic in 2012 to have doubled once again and forecasts growth from 2011 to 2016 to be more than 8-fold. These numbers do not include traffic offload from mobile networks to fixed networks – home and office Wi-Fi connections. Doing so would add another 6% growth to overall data traffic (source: Cisco Visual Networking Index, 2012).
Mobile customers use the web differently
With the proliferation of mobile data traffic, it is easy to forget that the iPhone is only about six years old and the iPad less than 3 years old. The mass market adoption of web enabled mobile devices is a relatively new phenomenon. Customers are only just beginning to explore what they can do on smartphones and tablets. They are also only just beginning to understand how they prefer to use them. Consumer behavior is evolving and mobile devices are a main driver of that change. You can see it in the way text fields are being optimized. They are becoming more friendly, requiring fewer inputs and fewer touches to complete a purchase.
Brands haven’t spent much time responding to this trend. They’ve been preoccupied trying to launch ecommerce initiatives on desktop. Regardless, it is clear mobile devices are not going away and brands must provide a viable mobile solution. Customers are on their mobile devices and they are using the web as it suits them.
Mobile use is situation specific
During our research for a major boating company’s website, many current boat owners expressed a desire to access maintenance and care information when out on the water or working on their boat. This type of situation specific need is a logical reason to visit the site but the current website isn’t designed to serve customers in this way. Looking up product information at dealer showrooms and at boat trade shows is another situation specific need well suited to mobile devices.
Sites that offer mobile friendly content will offer the best customer experiences.
Additionally, customers are also using mobile devices to supplement in-store visits. According to a Google study, 26% of sporting goods purchases from mobile happen in store versus 6% of customers who never view the product at all (source: Carabetta and Marchant, 2013). It shouldn’t be surprising that mobile customers access brand sites while shopping at local sporting goods retailers. Knowledgeable staff are not always available and accessing the brand website for official product details, features and benefits is seemingly quick and easy. As situation specific needs increase, mobile device use will increase. Sites that offer mobile friendly content will offer the best customer experiences.
Making mobile a priority
Athletic and Outdoor brands are also seeing increases in the amount of time and dollars a mobile customer spends on the site. In our research and experience building Athletic and Outdoor brand websites, we have found that improving the mobile experience significantly increases the amount of dollars spent and the amount of traffic. One particular client made mobile a priority and saw a 240% increase in mobile customer spending per visit from 2011 to 2012. Mobile traffic increased 190% during that same period. According to Google’s research team, 16% of all Google searches were performed on smart phones and tablets in 2012. Additionally, 60% of mobile customers spend $100 more than desktop customers (source: Carabetta and Marchant, 2013).
Mobile apps as a solution
Some Athletic and Outdoor brands have used native mobile apps to appeal to the mobile audience. For the most part mobile apps do not address the issue. Customers want to be able to research and complete purchases using their mobile devices. They will use the method that is easiest for them, so customers will only use them if the apps easily assist in achieving their goals. The challenge is that the additional tasks of searching through hundreds of thousands of apps in an app store, downloading, and then managing yet another app is proving to be a significant deterrent. Adding to that, apps have limited functionality versus websites, can be expensive and need to be updated continuously by a programmer.
There are few times when an app is truly necessary. Apps are necessary when brands needs access to the sensors or data on the device to perform its function, such as those used by the gaming industry. Few Athletic and Outdoor brands require the use of a customer’s contacts or photos to help the customer complete a purchase. As such, making the brand’s website render properly on mobile devices with varying screen sizes is the most efficient and effective manner for taking advantage of the boom in the customer’s mobile purchasing habits.
Responsive Design as a solution
When web access was dominated by desktop, brands only needed to consider a handful of screen sizes for their website. The use of fixed desktop browser breakpoints is less expensive to implement and easier to test. Designers could feel confident that the experience of the vast majority of web visitors would be consistent. But as the number of screen sizes have increased with the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, designers had an increasingly difficult time ensuring a quality web experience. Quality of experience is important. 57% of customers won’t recommend businesses with poorly designed mobile sites to their friends. 40% will simply visit a competitor site when a site is difficult to navigate (source: Carabetta and Marchant, 2013).
Responsive Design has provided a solution: responsive layouts are fluid and visible at all sizes. It is an effective solution to providing a consistent user experience across an increasing number of devices, without the need to design specifically for each one.
Mobile can no longer be ignored. For brands to do so would be at their peril. Google analysts, Carabetta and Marchant suggests that digital budgets should represent 25% of a company’s overall marketing budget. For most brands that number is currently much closer to 15%. Smartphone and tablet adoption rates are soaring, as is the corresponding data traffic. Neither show signs of abating.
Customers are spending both more time and money while on mobile devices, and they are doing so while engaged in situations that encourage research and immediate purchase. Brands wishing to capitalize on these trends will need to think deeply about customer needs and how to serve them on more and more web connected mobile devices.
Cisco Visual Networking Index: Global Mobile Data Traffic Forecast Update, 2011–2016 (February 14, 2012).
Alison Carabetta and Natalie Marchant, “The Digital Journey of Outdoor Sports Enthusiasts presented by Google,” Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013 (Salt Lake City, UT), January 24, 2013.