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Mystery shopping exercise finds most m-commerce sites hard to find and even harder to use

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The vast majority of retailers’ mobile websites are at best “well kept secrets” and at worst impossible to find behind counterintuitive URLs, prone to inexplicable crashes, unable to complete transactions or simply too complicated to navigate, says e-tailing group's first annual mobile commerce mystery shopping 
study. On average, of the 150 parameters on 50 m-commerce sites tested, the sites scored a just 4.5 out of 10, showing considerably room for improvement.

On a positive note, most sites deliver a mobile experience that is consistent with the brand and enables an adequate shopping experience, even if it isn't ideal. However, with some exceptions, the necessary ingredients for a successful mobile experience – such meaningful retail locators, inventory-sensitive store product locators, relevant search functionality, snafu-free checkouts, and ease of contacting customer service – are lacking or being inconsistently executed, potentially leaving a negative customer impression of the "4th" channel.

In many cases, says the report, mobile sites are a merchant's best kept secret – they might be inaccessible via direct URL entry or Google search and are inadequately promoted on the merchant ecommerce sites, via targeted emails, and on in-store collateral materials for those with brick and mortar locations. Technical snafus are abundant, downed sites common and other logistical problems often mean that shopping cannot be completed in one session, if at all.

Cross-channel integration is also deficient from many angles, finds the study, especially from a merchandising and promotional standpoint where the execution of tactics is inconsistent from channel-to-channel.


From a technical perspective, there is often an inability to access customer profile information such as shipping/billing addresses, payment information and saved wish lists or shopping carts, slowing down the checkout process.

Incredibly, mobile sites are not always optimized for the platform or browser on which they are being viewed, resulting in an inconsistent shopping experience, while search tools and subsequent search results that today drive significant onsite conversion are not being optimized via mobile.
 One-click settings and sticky forms are also missing, negatively impacting the convenience and time-saving demands of today's harried shoppers.

"In order for mobile commerce to reach projected volumes, retailers must start with a clear understanding of the mindset of an 'on the go' mobile shopper," says Lauren Freedman, President of the e-tailing group. "We believe that means fast and functional from finding stores to product available locally. It also means embracing a user experience that is efficient from search to checkout – ideally powered by one-click options – to best serve the 'super multi-tasking' shopper. A retailer's ability to ensure that their customers can accomplish the desired tasks coupled with an appreciation for the usability of these devices will lead to superior shopping experiences."

The e-tailing group set their mystery shoppers to work in 3Q'10, benchmarking 150 metrics on 50 mobile websites selling 13 product categories. To understand performance and usability across diverse devices, the iPhone with its intuitive touch pad interface was used to shop all 50 merchants, while the Blackberry with its traditional track ball hardware was employed to evaluate 25 of those retail sites; iPhones were purposely examined two-to-one as they are currently driving greater revenue.

Features and functionality were explored and a purchase was then made on each site to assess the user experience looking at tasks consumers were likely to perform and the usability of the experience they received. We deduce it is this winning combination of common task completion and usability that needs to be addressed to achieve exemplary performance standards.
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