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Retail technology - mCommerce

David Mackley takes a look at mobile websites and what to consider when delivering mCommerce for your customers

Whilst online sales growth in 2013 is predicted by IMRG to be 12 per cent, the star is undoubtedly mobile shopping, otherwise known as mCommerce. One of the most prominent stories about mCommerce in the first months of 2013 is the increase in conversion rates, which have doubled year on year. One of the factors driving this growth is the improvement in highly usable mobile websites. So what are the points to look out for when delivering a mobile website for your shoppers?

mCommerce sales in 2012 were up 304 per cent on 2011 and the growth of sales through mobile devices in 2013 remains in triple digits. Tina Spooner, Chief Information Officer at IMRG said: "What is apparent is that consumers are becoming more confident in purchasing through mobile devices as mobile sites improve. The conversion rate (browsers to buyers) has doubled in the space of a year, rising from 1.3 per cent in January 2012 to 2.6 per cent in January 2013."

Deja Vu

Usability experts suggest that mobile phone shopping is going through a transition resembling the desktop internet boom in the late '90s and studies relating to mcommerce show many similarities.
Low success rate. More often than not, users didn't complete the task in hand due to a variety of user barriers.
Old media design. In the '90s, websites emulated print media. In 2010, many mobile sites mimic desktop websites.
Bloated pages. Most of today's web pages may not seem bloated on a desktop PC, but on a mobile phone, visitors are faced with large images and long pages.
Scrolling. In the '90s, users had to scroll too much. In 2010, users often have to move the peephole around to read the content, or squish the text so that it becomes small and hard to read.
Slow load time. Most pages took too long to download (mobile on 3G can be slow and unpredictable).
Javascript crashes. Rich media types such as video and flash cause more problems.

Today, the experience on mobile is certainly getting better because more websites have mobile optimisation and designers have a better understanding of what works on a small screen. However, not everyone has moved to a mobile design and usability issues still exist.


Trust has been a big issue for shoppers. Users have historically been reticent to put credit card details in to their phones due to a mix of security fears and impatience stemming from the amount of time it takes to enter data. In 2013 there is less fear, although barriers still exist. This is why it's a good idea to include services like PayPal as an option as it doesn't require any card details.

Mobile specific siteThe general consensus is that a mobile optimised site will provide greater usability and better conversion rates than a non-optimised site. In a recent study conducted by Nielson, when a similar task was given to users of a mobile device, more people achieved success on the mobile optimised site than on the desktop site.

Designing for mobile

When creating a mobile site, some of the key considerations are to enlarge touch targets like buttons to allow for the fat finger syndrome, cut content to minimise bloating and cut features down to the most important only. Small screens mean fewer visible features at any one time. If there are a lot of feature options on a page, you rely on the user's memory to build a mental image of the page and remember where things are, which does not help them navigate your website.

Don't make me register

For many years now it has been considered that early registration is a no-no. This is more important with mobile. Visitors have a low level of commitment to your website at first. This commitment grows as they spend longer on the site, and they need to be convinced of the value of your website before taking the time to enter data with their finger. Forcing early registration will cost a lot of lost business.


In terms of menus, avoid having an overly deep structure. How many presses does it take to get to the product via your menus? 'Refine By' navigation can be the answer. John Lewis offers a master class in Refine By menu technology. I checked out its mobile site and looked for a radio. At the top of the results I was offered a Refine By button. This presents the shopper with options important for these products. In this case, they included options to refine by feature, brand, colour or price. Selecting 'feature' offers options of DAB (131 items), clock (67 items) etc. This approach to navigation mirrors shopping behaviour conducted in physical stores and is much more shopper friendly than clicking though lots of unfamiliar menus.

Writing for mobile

There's no doubt about it, being concise is the key. When visitors are reading through the peephole, cognitive load is increased making it doubly hard to understand text. Also, mobile users will often be more rushed due to the context of where they are. People find it harder to comprehend text on a small screen. Researchers at the University of Alberta showed the same page to users on a desktop and a mobile device. The desktop showed a comprehension score of 39 per cent and the mobile only 18 per cent. So the message is clear, if you want to be understood on mobile, be concise.

Responsive design

One of the most popular methods for displaying your website on a mobile is to use responsive design. When the website detects that the user has a small screen, it displays a different version of the website suited to the size of screen. Take a look at the John Lewis website on a desktop then on a smartphone as an example. With mobile shopping sites usually having horizontal large-scale menus that don't work as well on a small screen, it's important to present a different site for your mobile shoppers. In particular, the form of navigation should be different on a mobile. Responsive design can be a low cost and a great way of presenting the right screen at the right time.

David Mackley MBA BSc is MD of Intelligent Retail www.intelligentretail.co.uk providers of Multichannel EPoS and eCommerce websites for independent retailers. If you have any questions you can contact David on +44 (0)845 6800126 or dmackley@intelligentretail.co.uk

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