Close this search box.

Designing the Mobile User Experience

Designing the Mobile User Experience

Designing the Mobile User Experience

Amy Higgott, User Experience Practitioner at SimpleUsability, explores the issue of bringing personalisation and customisation into the mobile user experience, who is doing this well and the lessons that can be learned.

Users are growing more expectant of content to be tailored to their needs and interests, with relevant content and functionality available to them wherever they are and whatever they are doing. This is especially important on mobile as content needs to be succinct and quickly accessible. Mobile offers a uniquely intimate way of engaging with consumers as their devices are never far from hand. This can be maximised by using personalisation and customisation, which work well to increase customer engagement. Therefore designing a mobile experience which is uniquely tailored to individual customers is beneficial for both retailer and user alike.

When designers first began to think about how to optimise their sites for mobile, they had to make the decision of what to include on a site made for a smaller screen, and crucially, what to leave out. It was assumed that users would access mobile sites out of their homes and offices, not wanting the same functionality as on desktop. Obviously that’s not the case – a study by Nielsen found that 95% of tablet shoppers and 72% of smartphone shoppers who make a purchase on their device do it at home. The smartphone has become a lazy computer – sometimes replacing the larger screen, but it can be also used to seamlessly connect the user’s research and purchase journey, at home, out and about, and in-store.


To help create the right experience it’s now important to look at customisation and personalisation.

One way of tackling the problem of which content to include and which to discard, is to leave that decision up to the users themselves. This is customisation – the user has control – they choose what they want to see or to do. The BBC mobile site is a great example of this – the homepage displays a call to action for users to ‘Customise’, which takes them to a list of options – homepage content they can choose to show or hide, such as local news, sport and food. Of course, asking for ‘Local news’ would be pointless without a known locality, so the app picks up their location.

Let the customer guide your design

The idea of personalisation has exploded recently, with more retailers looking to connect with their customer at a very individual level. True personalisation means going beyond tailoring the messaging each user sees. The more personalised the online experience, the more engaged the customer feels. With mobile, there are more ways to personalise than on other platforms. Not only can content be based on what the user has viewed or purchased, but it can be based on where they are and what they’re doing in any given moment.

A number of elements can be personalised, such as which recommendations are shown, the order in which search results and product listings are displayed, emails sent to each user and even the order of category lists and filters. These things should be decided by combining insight from rich historical data and the user’s current behaviours and location.

Of course, different retailers have different business objectives and these should be considered when designing the mobile experience with personalisation in mind. It might not be necessary to personalise every bit of content on the site or app; instead, this should be focussed on areas most relevant to the key objectives of core users.


As a retailer specialising in personalised gifts, it’s appropriate that the NotOnTheHighStreet app incorporates a great deal of personalisation and customisation. To help users find the perfect gift, the app enables the user to add events such as friends’ birthdays, either manually or by connecting to Facebook . To make the gift suggestions even more relevant, users can rate elements of their friend’s personality. Products can then be tagged, effectively creating a shortlist of products for certain events. With a catalogue of 60,000 products in total, this customisation functionality really helps to guide the user to the portion of those products that will interest them, which they may have otherwise been unable to find.

The MySupermarket app allows users to compare prices across a number of different retailers, creating shopping lists to personalise their shopping experience. An effective feature of the app incorporates the customer’s shopping history as well as their location – ‘Price Alerts’ notify users of offers which are likely to be of interest to them when they are entering or near a store. This is a great example of how to create a seamless multichannel shopping journey by adding location-based customisation and personalisation to the mobile user experience.

Some retailers fear the thought of customers showrooming – finding something in store and purchasing online, possibly from a competitor. Topshop , on the other hand, takes advantage of the opportunity mobile provides to give personalised and customised content to users based on context and location, using this to enrich the in-store experience.

A ‘Scan’ feature enables users to scan products in store to find them on the app, where they can add to their ‘Notebook’ to share on social media or purchase later. We’ve all experienced the disappointment of finding the perfect item of clothing in store and searching the rails for our size to discover that it’s out of stock. The Topshop app allows users to find a product on the app and see which stores have it in stock. On top of this, scannable images and QR codes around the store allow users to unlock additional content to make the shopping experience even more unique.

As with any change in strategy, it’s important to conduct user testing to see the real effects of personalisation and customisation. The thought of having our behaviour analysed and our location tracked doesn’t sit well with all users, but everyone loves a good deal and the feeling of being valued. Therefore it’s vital to find the comfortable level of personalisation for your customers. This again can be customised by allowing users to choose if, how and when they want their data used for personalised content and offers.

The challenge with testing this on mobile is that the user could be anywhere when they interact with a brand and to gain the best insights requires the most natural environment, which could mean testing in-store.

As we’ve seen with the examples from Topshop and MySupermarket, part of personalisation on mobile is being with the user whenever they need it – another example of that is the shopping list functionality of the Asda grocery app.

Asda’s mobile innovation team asked SimpleUsability to conduct user testing to gain insight into users’ experience of the app in-store. We used eye-tracking during the user’s in-store journey, followed by a retrospective interview. Whilst conducting their natural in-store shop, the app allowed users to tick items off the list they had made at home and see a running total of their trolley. This was achieved by using the smartphone to scan barcodes of added items. Testing enabled us to provide Asda with evidence and recommendations which led to immediate improvements in the app’s usability as well as informing subsequent development.

As we’ve seen from the examples, the retailers who are providing the best personalised and customised mobile experiences tend to focus on a few core elements to tailor, rather than the whole site or app. These elements reflect the particular needs users are likely to have when engaging with each retailer on mobile, such as shopping for unique and thoughtful gifts on NotOnTheHighstreet, or expecting timely and relevant offers with MySupermarket. This shows a great level of understanding regarding user requirements and expectations, and demonstrates that the best way to achieve a great mobile user experience is to let the customer guide every step of your design.

Read More

Register for Newsletter

Group 4 Copy 3Created with Sketch.

Receive 3 newsletters per week

Group 3Created with Sketch.

Gain access to all Top500 research

Group 4Created with Sketch.

Personalise your experience on