Earlier this year, my colleague Kevin Bauer did a nice piece on Mobile Strategy. Building on that, this piece takes a look at the form factors involved in the commerce resulting from the devices used.

As recently as 20 years ago, no average person envisioned the following scenario –

  1. Turn on the monstrous desktop “personal computer”
  2. Warm up the 15” CRT (cathode ray tube) monitorNetscape 1990s Before Mobile Commerce
  3. Fire up a browser called “Netscape”
  4. Type in a URL for a favorite store
  5. Search for or navigate to an item of interest
  6. Add the item to a shopping cart
  7. Check out
  8. Wait 10 days
  9. Receive that item delivered wherever it was requested

eCommerce has evolved immensely in that short period of time. From desktops to laptops to mobile phones to tablets, retailers and consumers alike have adapted to the changing landscape of how to access the internet, shop and buy.

That said, the measurement of the various forms of access to the web has been challenging. What people use, how they use it, and the resulting transaction has been subject to many different interpretations. It is important for retailers to standardize on the reporting of sales attributed to each of the ways that are used and incorporate the analysis in overall shopping improvements.

What is eCommerce?

When the original channel of eCommerce emerged in the 1990’s, it was seen as the third of a three legged stool – stores, catalog, and web. Really, that has not changed. In the majority of cases, people still make purchases using computers – desktops or laptops. The emerging devices used to transact are phones and tablets.

What is Mobile Commerce?

In order to better distinguish how people were accessing online stores, the term “mobile commerce” entered the shopping lexicon. This term has been used loosely to attribute sales to devices that are “wireless” (but excluding desktops and laptops). So, many stores, analysts and customers think that phones AND tablets are considered mobile in nature. Therefore, mobile commerce is anything transacted using those devices.

Analyzing the Form Factors

Phones and Tablets Key Elements in Mobile CommerceTruly, to best understand and serve the customers of respective online businesses, how people access online stores should be broken down into three distinctive types –

          • Desktop/laptop
          • Tablet
          • Mobile Phone (or Smart Phone may be a better designation – one that has a browser)

The desktop/laptop experience is the veteran of the bunch and continues to be tested and refined based on new tools and faster speeds available. It is usually easy to break out in analysis via the range of tracking tools available.

The mobile phone experience should be treated very differently from the tablet experience. Phones are small form factors that render large amounts of text poorly to readers that are on the move and likely catching information as a time filler. When surveys and reports reveal that “mobile shopping is increasing” (as this Deloitte report did in late 2013), it is important to note that shopping and buying are not necessarily interchangeable. Therefore, the “mobile site” option that many retailers force upon mobile users is fine. Less text and more images will help the SHOPPING process.

Juxtaposed with mobile phones are tablets (iPads, Surfaces, “tabs”, whatever they may be called). These devices have much larger screens and are essentially a desktop experience on par with the close cousin of the laptop. When taken into account with phones, tablets plus phones are likely showing a very strong increase in buying. But these are two very different mediums that should be broken apart to measure in order to meet the needs of those using them.

When tablet users are forced to a “mobile site” (done way too often) based on sniffing the OS and determining it is anything but a desktop/laptop, it is an injustice. The user is often frustrated and shortchanged with a lackluster experience. They should have the ability to receive a more robust experience but get pigeon-holed.

The Key Takeaway

All devices are not created equal. Most everyone knows that or else there would not be a distinction between mobile and desktop/laptop.  What is overlooked, either for lack of time, money, or resources, is that not all mobile devices are created equal.

  • Know thy Device

The holy grail of all of this is conversion. The overall eCommerce conversion rate is still around 3% after all these years….slightly improving as each year passes. Mobile conversions (lumped together as most analysts do), is abysmally lower  – usually sub 2%. Optimizing each type of device and knowing which people use to shop and which people use to buy will best serve the merchant over the longer term.

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