With all the talk of iPhones, apps, Blackberrys and like-minded "smart" devices, at some point, if not already, you need to consider when it is right to make a move to mobile commerce. These smart technologies are more prevalent than ever, and the rate of use is growing. Add to that the fact that mobile shopping is expected to approach $2 billion by the end of 2010, and perhaps top $119 billion by 2015, according to some sources, and you have the makings of an opportunity that can add substantial revenue to your bottom line in the near future.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos stated that in the past year, the company sold more than $1 billion in products to customers who shopped for those items using a mobile device. That's a lot of cash from a trend that is rapidly increasing across the globe. Make no mistake, mobile commerce is here, and it is not only for big businesses. Small business owners should pay attention to this trend and get ready to take advantage of it at the earliest opportunity.
Think mobile commerce isn't for you? Think again.
Before you jump to the conclusion that mobile commerce doesn't fit your customer or your market, consider this: A recent article in Small Business Computing, about a particular online store that sold farm equipment, stated, "Farmers and ranchers need to order from their mobile phones too, and being able to do it using a browser is a plus. When a plow or a tractor breaks down in the middle of a field and needs a part, wasted time is wasted money." In fact, by making a mobile version of their site, the farm equipment company was able to increase sales from that particular channel. If this does not make you stop and reconsider where mobile commerce could fit into your business, I'm not sure what will. So before you say mobile is not for you, make sure you do your homework first.
When is it right to make a mobile version of your store?
That answer can depend on a lot of variables, including customer demographics, budget, and cart engine technology. The biggest hurdle for many stores will be getting a mobile version of their store developed. This can be a costly conversion process, depending on what you want to end up with as the outcome. With the exception of some custom-built ecommerce platforms, the majority of open source ecommerce engines out there simply do not have the ability to easily convert to mobile, yet.
It is true, you can view these nonmobile sites with a mobile device, but if not optimized to work on a mobile platform, these sites will not operate as a true mobile application should. The size of the site will not fit the screen resolution of the mobile browser, images will not load properly, the entire layout will be skewed, amongst other issues. This isn't going to help you sell. In fact, it will hurt.
Without a mobile-ready version of your store, the ability to turn visitors into sales is hindered, due to what often comes down to poor usability. Reading is made difficult, navigation is unbearable and often impossible, and that's just the beginning. There are a number of so-called automated mobile conversion scripts available for sites, but none address the issues a fully dynamic store presents. Most take a current site and render a 'static' mobile version of it. This is no good for stores that are constantly changing pricing or promotions, adding new products and trying to keep track of inventory.
If you want to see what a very basic mobile version of your store might look like, and I say 'might,' because this simply removes all styling and images and is not very pretty for the sophisticated smart phones of today, (but it would do the trick), Google provides a conversion utility (http://www.google.com/gwt/n) that is as simple as it gets. Enter the URL of your website, check the option for "No Images" if you do not want images to appear, and then click on the "Go" button. Once Google renders your site, you can surf it to see what users would see if they came to it via a mobile browser, to some degree. If you have got a mobile device of your own, you could, of course, access the site and view it as well. Accessing the site using this method will not show you a mobile rendered version, but it will show you what your customers see when they access your non-mobile version.
Tracking Mobile Visitors
I like Google Analytics. Sure, there are a number of tracking systems available, some free, some for purchase, but Google Analytics can tell you everything you need to know in order to run a successful business, and new features are being added to it constantly. With Google Analytics, you can track what types of mobile devices are trying to access both your non-mobile and mobile stores. This type of tracking on your non-mobile site may provide you with some insight into how many visitors are actually trying to view your site via a mobile browser, and this might play a role in your determining when to address a mobile design.
To track which mobile users are accessing your nonmobile website, you no longer need to do anything special inside Google Analytics. This ability is now built in, and can be found in the left hand side navigation under Visitors > Mobile.
Using the information presented from this type of data level can help determine an approximation of how many of your current visitors try to access your site via a mobile device. Keep in mind that this does not necessarily mean that if you had a mobile version they would not shop it. On the contrary, it may be that they know your site does not render in a mobile browser very nicely, and thus they choose the traditional Internet route. To add Google Analytics tracking to the mobile-ready version of your site, you will need to adjust slightly the traditional tracking code that Google provides. You can find this snippet and more information about it at the following link: http://code.google.com/mobile/analytics/docs/
When should you make the move to mobile?
There is no right or wrong answer for this. As we have seen, much of it depends on variables that are very business specific. One thing you can count on is that mobile shopping is going to be as common as the TV. To be able to take advantage of this growing medium, you need to start planning now. If you can get a mobile site in place sooner than later, great! If not, don't worry, but do consider what it will take to move toward that.
Eric Leuenberger is an ecommerce conversion marketing expert and author of a leading Ecommerce blog at www.TheEcommerceExpert.com. He coaches store owners using his online coaching system (www.EcommerceAmplifier.com), teaching them how to increase website sales using his proven six step process. He can be contacted at 1-866-602-2673.
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