Report: Retail Mobile Site Problems Galore

When retail consulting firm The E-Tailing Group tried testing where M-Commerce stands today on various mobile devices, they proved what many in the industry already knew: Mobile is still the lowest ranked of retail channels, which is robbing many chains of revenue they might otherwise be able to pull in.

One issue hurting M-Commerce functionality is, ironically, that some execs may be taking early M-Commerce advice to heart. The initial advice had been to minimize functionality and images as much as possible, given the tiny screens and limited horsepower of mobile devices.

But recent mobile improvements—especially in the Apple and Android arenas—could justify a slight liberalization of those rules. This is especially true given the roughly six to 10 months of development time required and the near certainty that major mobile devices will be stronger yet by then.

The E-tailing study found some interesting specific trends:

  • Keep Mobile A Secret
    The report found many retail sites "inaccessible via direct URL entry or Google search and are inadequately promoted on the merchant E-Commerce sites, via targeted E-mails and on in-store collateral materials for those with brick and mortar locations."

  • Crashes And Other Gotchas
    "Technical snafus are abundant. Due to error messages, downed sites and other logistical problems, shopping often cannot be completed in one session, if at all."

  • Not Using What The Web Does Routinely
    The report detailed technical problems that resulted in mobile shoppers being unable to "access customer profile information like shipping/billing addresses, payment information and saved wish lists or shopping carts, slowing down the checkout process."

    These trends go beyond slowing down the checkout process. With mobile, that process is already much more difficult to complete and many mobile-comfortable consumers will simply abandon the effort. Or, more to the point, surf over to a retailer that handles mobile far better.

    Other issues included mobile sites that were not optimized for key platforms, resulting in "an inconsistent shopping experience." We've done a lot of mobile testing, too, and "inconsistent" experience is a very polite phrasing. When the site isn't optimized for the browser the customer is using, the term for the experience is more accurately "really bad."

    Additional concerns generally involved the lack of timesaving capabilities—such as one-click and sticky forms—that are common on the Web. This is a critical problem. Mobile users truly need that functionality, even more Web users. If consumers have to repeatedly type in their credit card numbers on a Web site, it's very annoying. But if consumers have to thumb those same numbers through repeatedly on their phones, well, many simply won't.

    Some sites defaulted to the full Web site. As the report noted, that "dramatically reduces their usability." And in a wonderful example of benefitting from an obvious mobile advantage, store phone numbers were often not clickable. (That's a delicious twist. Developers are so deeply into the M-Commerce functionality that they forget the device's original purpose was to be a telephone.)

    Lauren Freedman, founder of the E-tailing Group, said one of the key problems she discovered was the lack of sorting ability in search responses. "To not be able to sort when you get 20 feature responses" is unacceptable, she said.