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Increasing Conversions by Improving the Mobile Experience

By Feb 02, 2014

By Steven Dykstra

In the second quarter of last year, according to an article from Econsultancy, 23% of all ecommerce sales were completed on a mobile device. But for the same quarter, 51% of mobile device owners hadn’t made a purchase using their device in the previous six months. What’s behind this juxtaposition?

The answer is the performance lag—speed and reliability—for mobile end users accessing sites and native mobile apps. While strong mobile end-user performance remains a tough nut to crack, opportunity abounds for retailers and marketers to engage that “other half.” The key will be delivering high-quality mobile end-user interactions that match the speed and reliability of a desktop PC—an essential foundation for an omnichannel strategy.

Here’s some tips to make that happen.

1.  Monitor All Mobile Interactions, 24/7

Throughout the world, mobile devices have made web access ubiquitous, and while this has many benefits, it also presents several challenges. For instance, it used to be that retailers could count on Cyber Monday being a critical day for performance, and all necessary measures were taken to ensure strong performance on that day. In reality, this approach is and always has been problematic since unforeseen events can truly bring a website to its knees on any day, for any duration of time, wreaking havoc on brands and reputation. But the advent of mobile has made this all the more painfully clear. With customers accessing mobile sites and native mobile apps all the time, no time is ok for poor performance anymore.

The 2013 Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday shopping period provided a good reference point for how mobile is making the lines between traditional peak traffic periods less distinguishable. Compuware data tracked a very large spike this year in Thanksgiving Day traffic and saw a 95% jump in iPad traffic compared to the day before—in contrast, last year’s day-over-day jump was 23%. This year there was also a 69% jump in iPhone traffic from the previous day. In addition, it seems that consumers are shopping via their mobile devices earlier in the season. On Nov. 23, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, iPad traffic jumped up 47% and iPhone up 22% over the three previous days. On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, iPad traffic jumped up 90% and iPhone 42% over those same days.

Adding to the challenge of peak traffic periods being less predictable and defined is the fact that end users now have social media to vent their complaints. One disgruntled end user at any time is all it takes to inflict damage on a brand. The Harris Interactive survey cited earlier found that 29% of smartphone/tablet users who have a poor online shopping experience are likely to complain on social media. Monitoring all online mobile interactions, 24/7 is therefore the only way to proactively detect and get ahead of performance problems before irreparable damage to company reputation is done. Modern approaches to application performance management (APM) enable this kind of comprehensive monitoring.

Going a step further, organizations can benefit by directly correlating response time and conversion information in order to identify and prioritize problems associated with different site visitor segments. With the right monitoring in place, a retailer can see exactly how and when mobile site visitors are converting and understand exactly how performance is impacting conversions. For example, if 10% of site visitors are using a certain mobile browser and 100% of them are not converting because the site doesn’t work for that browser, clearly that’s an issue that needs to be addressed right away.

2. Streamline Mobile Sites as Much as Possible

Time and time again, mobile end users have expressed just how important fast, reliable mobile interactions are to them. For example, a recent consumer survey conducted by Harris Interactive revealed that 37% of mobile end users will go to a competitor if a site’s response time is more than three seconds. And yet, Compuware data from the all-important Thanksgiving through Cyber Monday shopping period showed that page load times averaged over 10 seconds, and averaged more than 18 seconds to complete a multiple-step transaction consisting of accessing the home page, conducting a search, viewing a product description, adding items to the shopping cart and reviewing the order. When page load times increase, abandonment rates also increase, causing retailers to lose revenue.

The fact is, performance wins out over rich features and functionality when it comes to driving conversions. Evidently, organizations and their marketers are still trying to push out too much content onto mobile devices. They are prioritizing rich features and functionality over performance, and failing to recognize that wireless networks and devices aren’t always conducive to delivering excellent experiences. While some pages have been optimized for mobile, others remain overloaded and organizations really need to work on slimming down these sites.

Specifically, organizations need to better leverage web performance optimization techniques like managing their reliance on third-party services. Often, no matter how much mobile site owners try to streamline, complexity introduced by third-party services continues to creep back into sites. Site owners need to be wary of marketing team requests to add more services in order to create more feature-richness, as this can result in poorly performing pages that hurt conversions. In addition to closely monitoring overall complexity, site owners should also be able to drill-down to understand the performance of individual third-party services, and how these may be impacting page performance overall. Finally, site owners should reduce unnecessary and heavy graphic elements and eliminate unnecessary roundtrips, which can drag down response levels. Simply put, organizations need to design sites and applications with true mobile end users in mind.

3. Prioritize Native Mobile Apps

The very nature of native mobile applications – often accessed by customers on the go, hunting for deals – places an ultimate premium on speed and convenience. Like mobile sites, the speed and reliability of a company’s native mobile apps has become a proxy for the overall quality and integrity of the business. Managing the end user experience across all customer-facing channels, including native mobile apps, is vital.

Unfortunately, native app performance snafus – i.e., crashes, freezes, errors, slow launch times, apps that never properly launch – are common. Capturing crash reports for individual failed mobile visitors is essential to identifying and fixing functional problems before a larger number of users are impacted. Furthermore, organizations can better protect and enhance the performance of their native mobile apps by leveraging common APM practices for native apps and mobile web apps, even though one is native and the other is a standardized web technology.

Specifically, organizations can combine end-user experience monitoring across multiple app versions and device types with deep-dive diagnostics. Mobile web applications depend on a wide range of web and network technologies performing well, including carriers, ISPs and CDNs. Native apps depend on these same factors, as well as an additional set of factors including signal strength, battery level and device memory – making the mobile device a pretty hostile environment for an application to operate in. Even if a native mobile app is built with excellent code, there are a host of other external factors that can impact performance. Because of this, there needs to be total visibility – an end-to-end view of performance for all native mobile app uses, 24/7, from the true end user perspective. This enables organizations to quickly see, understand and address the source of performance problems, whether it’s a code problem or something else.

Clearly, actual mobile commerce transactions are continuing to lag far behind site traffic for mobile devices. With other major sales period just around the corner, like Valentine’s Day and the Super Bowl, it is now time for organizations and marketers to tackle the ‘commerce’ part of mobile commerce. This should be a New Year’s resolution for any organization looking to maximize revenue opportunities from the mobile explosion.

Steven Dykstra is the product management director of Compuware’s Application Performance Management business unit.