If any doubt remains about the impact of the mobile revolution, consider the effect of Apple's flagship product, the iPhone 5, on the mainstream market.
Leading up to the launch in mid-September, the only certainty was that the magnitude would be great. Lines snaked around city blocks as eager iPhone fans camped out in front of every major Apple store in the world. Wireless carriers struggled to keep up with demand as Apple delayed its shipping date by a week. Nearly 2 million devices were preordered before the official rollout, and analysts estimated that as many as 10 million or more iPhone 5s would be shipped by the end of that month.
Total sales reached the 5 million mark in the first weekend alone, leaving mobile marketers and brands looking to get into the mobility game with one conclusion—that having a concrete mobile infrastructure plan and strategy is no longer an option, as it had been in recent years, but rather a must to compete in any customer-facing situation.
But marketers and brands are now tasked with the challenge of meeting their customers' expectations for myriad channels and devices. As Elana Anderson, IBM's director of enterprise marketing management, points out, mobile is one of the top items on most of the company's customers' to-do lists. Mobile is so predominant that IBM estimates that 20 percent of online sales this holiday season will be mobile transactions.
Similarly, Jonty Kelt, cofounder and CEO of Group Commerce, a technology company connecting major media companies and platforms to digital revenue streams, says he has seen up to 40 percent of traffic to customers' e-commerce sites coming from mobile devices, with three times more dwell time and page views on a mobile device than on a simple Web page.
With a surge in mobile traffic comes the added potential to connect with and sell to customers through mobile commerce. However, Kelt says that conversion rates on the path to purchase via mobile are much lower than on traditional Web sites. Unless a brand has an HTML 5, iPad-optimized presence, "it's going to be a problem for conversions because of the payment process."
The Form Factor
In the latest Shop.org and Forrester Research Mobile Commerce Survey, it's estimated that U.S. smartphone commerce will grow to $31 billion by 2016. But despite this upward trajectory, retailers and other consumer-oriented companies still express some hesitancy about investing in multidevice environments.
As Anderson points out, there has been a lot of excitement, but still some apprehension by companies, when it comes to moving forward with mobile planning. One fear is that of the unknown, but security, data management, and simply proving a use case and subsequent return on investment are concerns as well.
According to the Mobile Commerce Survey, about 44 percent of retailers still have not optimized their mobile presence, with few expressing any differentiation between strategy and objectives for smartphones and tablets. The fact of the matter is, each of these devices is extremely different in their use cases, and companies must factor in the varying degrees to which a customer will use each device.
"In many cases, whether an app or a mobile-optimized site is more preferred depends on the retailer's customer base and the strategic value of mobile to their organization," says John Andrews, vice president of product strategy at Oracle. "Mobile-optimized Web sites are great catchalls for quick hits and high-volume sites," but factors like network and device limitations can hinder mobile access and create latency issues for mobile Web sites, he adds.
According to the latest ForeSee Mobile Satisfaction Index: Retail Edition, companies still struggle to maintain uniformity across multiple device experiences when there are various screen sizes, operating systems, hardware specifications, and loading speeds to consider.
The key issue in smartphone shopping continues to be the form factor, which can make navigation more difficult for customers, states Sucharita Mulpuru, research vice president at Forrester Research and principal author of the Shop.org/Forrester report. In addition to slower page load times on smartphones, some customers are concerned about the security of the transaction or simply complain that the experience just isn't the same.
ForeSee, which surveyed 4,500 consumers for the September release of its Mobile Satisfaction Index, found that 68 percent of respondents accessed a brand through a retailer's mobile Web site versus 32 percent who used the retailer's app. First-time users of a mobile site or app tend to be less satisfied with their mobile experiences than frequent users because of their lack of familiarity with layouts, navigation, and functionality. However, customers who are familiar with a brand are likely to be "more satisfied" than consumers who are driven to a mobile site or app via a search engine or shopping comparison site.
A successful mobile experience, like many other customer experiences, is about fulfilling customers' needs for the particular channel they're in. When customers' needs are met, companies are rewarded. Satisfied customers are 69 percent more likely to make a purchase using their mobile device, 72 percent more likely to recommend a retailer, and 58 percent more likely to visit the mobile site or app again than dissatisfied customers, ForeSee finds.
Conversely, companies that fail to measure the customer experience and do not meet customers' mobile needs will miss an important opportunity to foster customer loyalty, according to Larry Freed, ForeSee's president and CEO.