Top 2012 Ecommerce Trend: Retailers Need to Move to Mobile

The "I'm thinking about it" stage of optimizing for mobile customers has passed. It's now a must-do for even the smallest of online retailers.

Last year the top ecommerce trends focused on social integration, customer analytics and ecommerce remarketing. This year, it is clear that the days of building websites to best service consumers who mainly shop on a computer or laptop are over.

Mayan prophecies aside, 2012 is all about mobile customers. If you're not mobile, you're simply not competitive. And your ecommerce business will suffer as you lose sales to competitors who provide a good shopping experience on mobile devices.

Ecommerce spoke with Diane Buzzeo, CEO and founder of ecommerce software provider Ability Commerce to dig deeper in to the topic of mobile and find out why this is the ecommerce trend to know for 2012.

Why Online Retailers Need to Move to Mobile

The biggest game-changing trend we've seen in technology is the growing usage of mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, and how consumers use them for ecommerce. On mobile devices your customers do everything from accessing promotional coupons and scanning QR codes to researching products, comparing prices and making a purchase.

With expert mobile research pegging the number of smartphone users in the U.S. at 82.2 million people, it's not surprising to see more consumers shop using a mobile phone compared to a laptop or desktop PC. The same holds true for tablets, which represent the biggest shift in the computing industry in years.

"We have seen an explosion in traffic coming from smartphones. We've seen an even bigger explosion in the rate of orders coming from tablets," said Buzzeo.

For an ecommerce site owner, growing consumer adoption of mobile devices changes everything. Buzzeo calls the mobile revolution a "culture shift," and it means you have to adjust your online business -- from the way you design your website to the time of day you should expect sales volume --to be successful this year.

"We see this as a cultural shift. Orders used to come to ecommerce sites mostly during the day.  It was people sitting behind their computer at work ordering during their lunch hour or while they were supposed to be working," said Buzzeo. "We've even seen the time of day orders are being placed shift to where we think it's Mom -- after she's come home from work -- sitting on the couch with an iPad."

Mobile Considerations for Ecommerce Site Owners

Mobile retail sites have two considerations: smartphones and tablets. The biggest difference between using ecommerce sites on a mobile phone and on a computer is the reduced screen size and the limited capabilities of mobile device browsers.  Standard websites simply do not display well on a small screen; you have to optimize for mobile users.  

For tablets, with the larger display screen, most sites will work pretty well, but the big issue is Flash , a technology commonly used on websites but not supported by all tablets, including the iPad.

"You need to supply your website in a smartphone-friendly version, display it a different way to customers on a tablet and, differently again on a computer," explained Buzzeo. "And make sure that your ecommerce site can determine what device a site visitor is using, so that it can display the appropriate look."

The whole concept of your website rendering properly on a mobile device is much easier on a tablet than a smartphone, but if you do not already offer different versions of your online retail site, this is the year to do it or get left behind.

Mobile Trends and Facts for Ecommerce Businesses

Over the past year we've covered many different aspects related to mobile technology and ecommerce. Here are our top five mobile commerce quotes and facts from 2011.

  • The most common mobile shopping activity is researching products and comparing prices, which 15 percent of mobile phone owners now do every month. (Source: "Mobile Commerce Research for Online Retailers")
  • According to Annette Tonti, a mobile-friendly website is a better option for cash-strapped SMBs. "Another big difference is the expense of implementing an app, and then the long-term upkeep of mobile app. A mobile website is far less expensive to build and manage," she said. (Source: "Mobile Commerce Experts Talk Small Business")
  • 30 percent of tablet owners have used their device to shop online, while currently only 25 percent of smartphone owners have used their phone to do the same. (Source: "Mobile Commerce Research for Online Retailers")
  • Gavin Miller, lead developer and co-owner of RandomType Inc. recommends that ecommerce site owners consider the following strategies to improve the user experience for tablet users: simplify IT, make it stimulating and use a tablet yourself. (Source: "Mobile Commerce: iPad and Tablet Shoppers Buy More")
  • "So many consumers are using smartphones, and they have the Internet in their pockets," said analyst Laurie McCabe. "It's a great way to get a competitive advantage."  The fact that so many people are moving to smartphones and Web-enabled devices is the force driving this trend. (Source: "Mobile Commerce Experts Talk Small Business")

Based in Nova Scotia, Canada, Vangie Beal has spent the last decade contributing featured articles and reviews to more than 20 technology-focused publications, including Webopedia and Ecommerce-Guide. You can tweet with her online @AuroraGG

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