It's a fine theory. Trouble is, it doesn't actually seem to work for most of the 16 retailers that ForeSee looked at, ranging from Best Buy and eBay to Avon and Target.
According to the study, consumers rated almost all of the retailers' mobile sites as less satisfying than their Web sites. Only Apple's M-Commerce effort got higher ratings than its Web site, with a mobile score of 85 out of 100 and a Web score of 83. (Apple doesn't have a mobile Web site, so ForeSee asked customers how satisfied they were with the Apple Store app.) Right behind Apple was Amazon, with a mobile score of 84 and Web satisfaction at 88.
Those two were trailed by Dell, Netflix, eBay, Best Buy, Staples, Avon, Barnes & Noble, Home Depot, Victoria's Secret, Toys"R"Us, Blockbuster, Target, Wal-Mart and Sears, all with mobile satisfaction scores in the 70s. (ForeSee's average score for most companies' mobile sites, including non-retail companies, is 67, so none of these big retailers was a complete embarrassment.)
The numbers are interesting but, like most analysts, ForeSee has a theory: Retailers must make sure customer satisfaction levels are the same across all channels, and if M-Commerce satisfaction lags E-Commerce it will hurt the likelihood that customers will come back to any channel—including brick-and-mortar stores. In short, mobile metrics are the key to returning customers everywhere.
Unfortunately, playing that type of metrics game can be a trap that distorts your best efforts to make sense of how a retailer's different channels interact. For example, Amazon is one of the retailers whose mobile satisfaction significantly lags its Web site rating. But Amazon is still the #2 mobile site in the survey. Why? Because Amazon's Web site satisfaction is through the roof. And customers say they're highly likely to return to Amazon through either mobile or other channels.
But Amazon is special. ForeSee also specifically called out Wal-Mart and Avon for failing to keep their customers' mobile and Web satisfaction aligned:
"The largest gaps between Web satisfaction and mobile satisfaction are for Avon, with a gap of eight points, and Walmart, with a gap of seven points. A large gap indicates that customer needs are not being met nearly as well in the mobile experience as they are online. Unless companies improve their mobile shopping capabilities, this gap is likely to become a larger problem for companies as more of the population becomes mobile savvy and expectations for the mobile experience rise. Customers expect the same high-quality experience on a mobile site as they do on a Web site, and companies that do not deliver could see long term brand affinity and loyalty suffer," the report said.
But wait—why exactly is there such a big gap between Avon's Web and mobile satisfaction ratings?But wait—why exactly is there such a big gap between Avon's Web and mobile satisfaction ratings? It's mainly because Avon's Web site is tied with Apple's at #2 for satisfaction. Having a middle-of-the-pack mobile site and a great Web site should discourage customers from coming back via mobile or any other channel, according to the theory.
Except it doesn't. According to more of ForeSee's survey numbers, Avon's middle-of-the-pack mobile site gets a middle-of-the-pack rating when customers are asked if they'll return via mobile. But asked whether they'll purchase from any other Avon channel in the future, and Avon came in at #3—right behind Amazon and Apple.
OK, having a big gap between mobile and Web satisfaction isn't necessarily deadly after all. But it certainly doesn't help. Wal-Mart's sites also have a big gap. Its mobile satisfaction was rated low, but its Web score was middle-of-the-pack. The predictable result: Wal-Mart was rated by customers as one of the least likely retailers they'd return to through any channel in this survey.
Still, having a satisfying mobile site will help drive customers to other channels, won't it? Not consistently. Dell and Netflix, which scored right behind Apple and Amazon for mobile satisfaction, were near the bottom of the list for customers' likelihood of returning via another channel.
Having a great mobile experience will consistently line up with customers wanting to come back to the M-Commerce site, right? Don't tell eBay and Best Buy, whose mobile satisfaction scores were almost identical—but although eBay tied with Apple as the top mobile site customers said they'd return to, Best Buy's mobile customers rated their likelihood to return near the bottom. (Then again, Best Buy rated high for customers returning by way of other channels.)
That's the problem with these types of metrics: Although there may be some very general correlations, the specifics frequently overwhelm the usefulness of those rules of thumb. Amazon will keep pulling customers back even if its mobile site is rated much less satisfying than its Web site. Dell and Netflix's mobile sites are a strong draw for bringing customers back to their mobile sites—but not so much for their Web sites.
And Target, whose M-Commerce and E-Commerce sites rank near the bottom of the satisfaction list, still ranks high for "other channels"—presumably because people still want to go into the brick-and-mortar stores.
None of this means retailers shouldn't make their mobile sites better and more satisfying to customers. Of course they should. Retailers should make their Web sites and stores more satisfying, too, especially in ways that drive customers to whatever channel is handy when they want to buy.
And it doesn't mean analysts shouldn't keep squeezing insights out of survey numbers. Someday they might make a breakthrough.
Until then, any theory more complicated than "make your mobile, Web and store experiences better and your customers happier" is likely to get you into trouble.