Shopping the smart way

Will the 4G and phablet generation become an army of smartphone shoppers? Lee Perkins, EVP & Managing Director, Sage UK & Ireland, writes exclusively for Retail Systems

Many of you will regularly use your smartphone for shopping purposes. But a much lower proportion of you will purchase anything on it.

So far that's been the reality of mobile commerce (m-commerce). Instead of using smartphones to make a whole end-to-end purchase, shoppers generally use it as a companion to a wider shopping experience. They are, in effect, mobile browsers instead of mobile shoppers.

One of the biggest problems is that the user experience of shopping on a smartphone simply hasn't been good enough. Shopping on small screens could be very tough in the past, particularly if browsing on the mobile web with a 3G connection. Once a prospective shoppers is presented with a frozen screen or web page, they will certainly stop browsing and most likely not return to the website.

When it comes to the buying bit, for most of us it has been too fiddly tapping in credit card details, with a large majority of us abandoning a purchase on mobile because it isn't as easy as a desktop or tablet.

But the UK is obsessed with tech. We have one of the most advanced smartphone markets in the world, with increasing numbers of people holding the latest devices. This, and wider 4G connectivity, will mean more users than ever before will use their smartphones during their shopping experience. It will also mean more opportunities for businesses to convert mobile shopping experiences into actual purchases.

Increasing popularity of phablet devices

The speed in which tablets became popular meant many observers thought them to be the future of m-commerce. But smartphone users outnumber tablet users hugely. This is why the growth in popularity of 'phablet' devices is interesting in terms of the future of m-commerce – it offers the convenience of a smartphone with a big screen form factor approaching that of a tablet, where it’s much easier to conduct a whole end-to-end shopping experience.

Smaller businesses in particular need to make the mobile shopping experience as seamless as possible. If the mobile experience doesn’t work so well, bigger companies often have in-store opportunities for customers to buy goods directly. Smaller companies might not have that advantage, and could quickly lose customers simply because the shopping experience and checkout functionality isn't good enough.

Mobile certainly needs to be a top priority already, whether you're looking for shoppers to browse your website or get them to purchase goods outright. So the challenge is to have quality goods at a decent price, together with a mobile experience that persuades people to browse and stay on.

This could be through a native app or mobile website, so both need to be of a sufficient quality. There's a lot to think about here, including website speed and responsiveness, imagery, navigation and text. Businesses of all sizes need to present a slick and consistent brand experience.

Getting the checkout experience right

If you're looking for shoppers to make direct purchases from your website or app, then the checkout experience has to be great. Small businesses could even allow customers to use mobile wallet technology, which enables customers to store and control all their online shopping information in one device, allowing people to buy goods up to a certain monetary value with a single tap of a smartphone that has Near Field Communications (NFC) enabled.

With mobile wallet apps like Apple and Android Pay, customers don’t need to stick down their credit card details with each purchase. The use of this is increasing, again driven by the technology available in new devices. For instance, last year’s iPhone 6S and Google Nexus 6P, flagship Apple and Android devices respectively, were both NFC capable.

There are certain marketing advantages for a small business to accept payments through mobile wallet technology. For instance, mobile wallets could be integrated with mobile loyalty programmes, allowing shoppers to use discounts and get rewards without the pain of fiddling with numerous cards that could get lost or destroyed.

The more people use smartphones and become comfortable shopping with them, the more likely companies without a m-commerce strategy will lose out on available cashflow. This is the same whether we're talking about mobile browsers or mobile shoppers.

With additional breakthroughs in mobile payment technology, as well as advancement in terms of UX and UI, 2016 will be a very exciting time for m-commerce. The question is, is your business ready?

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