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Mobile is going to be key to peak

People are spending more time than ever on their mobile phones searching, but are they finding?  And, crucially, are they buying? Jamie Challis explains why this isn’t all it appears to be

According to the latest data from App Annie, commissioned by Facebook, shoppers’ usage of apps continues to grow, with consumers spending three hours a day on average in them.  Shoppers are also now downloading more of apps, which in turn means they spend less time in the handful on which they used to depend.

The average global user now has 93 apps installed on their phone and uses 41 of them regularly each month, up from 85 and 35 respectively in 2015. This doesn’t seem like such a giant leap in five years, which perhaps shows that shoppers are perfectly capable of handling lots of apps but tend to rely on the ones they have or use regularly.

Anyone in the app business is no doubt delighted, as it shows a maturing of shoppers’ mobile use and a further move away from desktops, even as many people continue to work from home after lockdown. However, there are lots of drawbacks when using desktops and these are simply not getting fixed on mobile. It means therefore that the user is having to do all the work.

On-site navigation and search are already hard to do, so why make it even harder on mobiles where the form factor is so much smaller on both screen and keyboard. While many people may relish the challenge of trying to find a needle in a haystack, most do not.

Add to this, when people are searching on a desktop, they are generally stationary so they will keep going until they find what they want. On mobiles, they are more than likely to be transient, and subject to being interrupted meaning they have to come back to their search later on. They may have to start all over again, if they can even be bothered, so it makes sense to make the user navigation less complex for them.

The search functions that are used on desktop sites were designed many years ago and have barely been updated, with the result that it is generally hard to find what you want. All these shortcomings have been moved to mobile without change. In short, if companies selling goods want to make it easy for their customers to buy, they are going to have to make it easier for them to locate the chosen products in the first place.

Certain new functions to support search have been added, such as bots and live chat, but these are also awkward to use on mobiles, particularly when people are out and about and are not going to start talking at their phones. They also do not solve the fundamental problem of search engines being unable to learn as they go.

People have become much more sophisticated and directed in the way that they search, so it is reasonable for companies to return the favour by recognising this. Using machine learning, it is now possible for the search engine to understand a lot about the customer from the initial search enquiry, and then to respond by narrowing in onto relevant items.

Search can now also work much more like a conversation between two people – the customer and the virtual assistant who is able to design the journey through the site exclusively for each customer. And instead of opening up a Pandora’s box of all blue shirts, it can narrow down very quickly to relevant styles, colours, shades and sizes.

Some Internet retailers will say that they already invest heavily in acquisition, throughSEO and PPC but too often think the job is done once they get there. However, typical conversion rates on retail websites are only 2-3%, so clearly there is still a lot more to be done to get them through to the checkout.

During the current pandemic and for years to come, this is going to become more important than ever. While some retailers are happy that they are getting a boost as shopping shifts from stores to online, this is not going to last. The competition is going to hot up very quickly as more players join, bringing a wealth of new products and online techniques with them.

And while many people will put up with poor search in order to track down what they need, the danger is that they may not actually succeed. Worse, how likely is it that they will come back again? And that’s going to be a huge problem for companies that may make very little money on the initial transaction, because they a relying on repeat and regular purchases in order to make a decent profit.

With companies now preparing for peak, the key final three months of the year, search will be a core competitive weapon in ensuring that you can keep the traffic you have worked too hard to earn, and make sure shoppers leave your site with a purchase.


Jamie Challis is UK Director at Findologic

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