Taking eCommerce to the next maturity level – tablets, mobile and a new common language

Date: 9th December 2013
Author: Deri Jones

It’s not so many years ago, that the online teams at major retailers were small, out on the periphery of the organisation and mostly ignored: after all management was focused on the big sales at the big stores.

Then a breakthrough came when online sales for the first time were larger than at the flagship Oxford Street store. That triggered a new level of management interest – online had come of age. It was not always comfortable for online guys to be under scrutiny, they had become used to huge freedom, living outside the machinations of the wider company.The result was bigger budgets for online, more growth online, and fast-moving retailers grabbed online market share.

But today there is another change now on us – a tablet, mobile, many device phase. In the UK, over half of adults (51%) now own a smartphone and tablet ownership has more than doubled in the past year, rising from 11% of homes to 24%. The average household now owns more than three types of internet enabled device, with one in five owning six or more (Source: Ofcom, August 2013).

This mobile and tablet arena is where the most mature ecommerce operations are breaking through the old divide between marketing and technology teams.

It’s become accepted wisdom in the last 12 months that iPad users spend more per order than Android, that total online spend by tablet users is growing fast, and that sales on mobile devices too, though smaller, are advancing. In fact, overall sales through mobile devices (both smartphone and tablets) have doubled in the last year and now account for 23% of online sales. (IMRG and Capgemini, Sept 2013).

Most ecommerce operations have reached the stage where tablets and smartphones are no longer lumped together under the mobile umbrella, as each device encourages entirely different user behaviours and outcomes for brands.

But whilst marketers are for the first time running campaigns targeting at tablet users, there is a risk of running blind. There are two challenges for ecommerce teams that will make or break their success in this environment.

Challenge: Spreading tech resources thinly, over multiple sites for multiple devices

Firstly, there are less tech resources are available for new client-facing features. This is because the tech team requires considerable resources to support laptop, tablet and mobile shoppers’ devices. Some organisations will fall behind in the online features and usability race because too much of their tech resource is spent supporting the different platforms in inefficient ways – these organisations have three different server platforms and code bases – that’s a huge cost!

Many are working towards having just one server platform to support all devices, using responsive web techniques. This will ultimately free up tech teams once done, but is right now still reducing the tech resources for new online features.

Challenge: “customer experience must be the relentless focus of modern business.”

The second challenge – is a maturing point in ecommerce: Sales will be lost unless management own the user experience 24/7, across all user devices. As econsultancy.com’s Manifesto says, “Improving the customer experience must be the relentless focus of modern business.”

Tablet sales are now significant – but for most organisations the user experience 24/7 on their site for tablet users is not known – let alone knowing how the experience differs 24/7 on iPad vs Android user journeys. These tablets use different browsers and have different JavaScript engines inside, so it is easy to have a page that loads fast on an Android but slow on an iPad, or vice versa.

It’s very hard for the software guys too, to know what speed difference even a small JavaScript change can make. So every release made is a risk. As a major retailer said to me recently: “We’ve not taken this seriously before. We knew the theory that a shopping journey needs to be fast and glitch free, but have been flying blind as to what sales we are risking.”

Common Language of User Experience measured 24/7 by User Journeys

Back in 2011 Chris Howell, director at Dixons, spoke at the RBTE conference on the benefit of ‘Uniting the Tribes’. He was referring to the use of realistic user journeys, monitored 24/7, to be the common language between business and tech teams, as to whether user experience on the site is losing you sales or not.

Today in the multi-device world, that advice has never been truer, and needs to be updated, to include measurements on tablet devices too.

First published at:

Internet Retailing article: Taking ecommerce to the next maturity level – tablets, mobile and a new common language

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