The Revolution Is Over, and M-Commerce Is Here to Stay
M-commerce may have been a long time coming, but last year was pivotal in cementing it as a key shopping channel, and it's now clear that it's here to stay. Tablet commerce, in particular, has been gaining steam. Businesses have no time to lose in optimizing their mobile site designs and measuring their performance from the true end-user perspective, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
In case you missed it, 2012 -- the so-called "year of mobile" -- came and went pretty quickly. Now we simply live in a mobile world. E-commerce is moving to mobile devices more and more, and that trend is not likely to stop anytime soon. U.S. retail mobile commerce sales will grow from US$13.63 billion in 2011 to $86.86 billion by 2016 -- increasing from 7 percent to 24 percent of all retail e-commerce, according to eMarketer.
To capitalize on the mobile commerce opportunity, businesses and marketers must deliver exceptionally fast and reliable experiences on mobile devices, matching the excellence of a desktop PC. Following are three valuable tips for maximizing site performance on tablets and smartphones.
1. Site Design Optimization
Focus first on site design optimization. This means keeping a laser focus on delivering a fast, reliable mobile Web experience, which sometimes means "leaving stuff out."
In other words, in mobile, the very same feature-richness that makes traditional websites so appealing may be a hindrance. Sometimes, losing a little weight is all it takes to improve performance, so you must be prepared to make some compromises -- perhaps streamlining content a little more than you otherwise would.
Some organizations jump to the immediate conclusion that making a site faster on a mobile device means adopting some of the same strategies used for traditional websites, like site acceleration via content delivery networks. Remember, though, that sites viewed on a mobile device can only be as fast as the slowest mobile connection. This means that trying to push content through a CDN onto mobile devices can be like trying to squirt a firehose through a garden hose.
The best CDN in the world will not help if a site is not optimally designed to perform well on the smallest screens and the slowest connections. Measuring performance from the true end-user perspective is key to identifying opportunities to lose a few pounds in site design in order to gain speed.
2. Responsive Design
Consider adopting responsive design. One thing that is very important to note in all of this is the major role tablets play in mobile commerce. Tablets are ideal for online browsing and shopping, and they will account for 16.9 percent of all retail e-commerce sales by 2016 from 2.8 percent in 2011, according to eMarketer.
As the Super Bowl demonstrated, many companies try to link their TV ads to their online properties to create a "second screen" correlation, relying on consumers to simultaneously use online media like tablets to augment the traditional TV brand interaction. Remember, if there's one thing we learned from Thanksgiving 2012, it's that the "couch commerce" trend -- consumers browsing on tablets from the comfort of their couches -- is alive and well.
Among mobile devices, there are differences and nuances in terms of the volume and type of site content that various platforms can accommodate well. For example, the iPad screen is more adept at displaying rich visual content than an iPhone. Also, sites on an iPad must be optimized for touch, displaying big buttons and links that are spaced far enough apart to enable easy browsing.
Knowing this, some organizations have dedicated mobile home pages specifically designed to download quickly on various types of mobile devices. However, developing and maintaining these pages can cost extra time and money. In addition, the creation and management of these pages is sometimes outsourced, meaning that companies may relinquish some control over processes like QA and load testing.
Conversely, a new process called responsive design ensures that entire sites -- not just home pages -- can be designed and built once, then used anywhere and on any device. Essentially, the site can detect the nature of inbound traffic (i.e. smartphone, tablet or desktop PC) and deliver a version of various pages according to specific device capabilities and limitations.
The beauty of this approach is that there's only one code base to create and manage, but remember that site design is just one piece of the puzzle. Businesses must get performance right as well, and an understanding of the true end-user perspective is the ultimate litmus test for high-quality interactions.
3. The True End-User Perspective
Measure performance from the true end-user perspective, 24x7, 365 days a year. It's well known that third-party services added to a website -- e.g., ad servers, user-generated content like ratings and reviews, online product demos and tours, and even social media plug-ins -- can degrade performance for traditional Web pages and applications. In the spirit of eliminating unnecessary "page weight," there may not be as many third-party services employed on sites where mobile users are expected to be in the majority.
However, the speed and bandwidth limitations of most mobile carrier connections mean that when the performance of a third-party service does goes awry on a mobile site, the impact can be even more detrimental than with traditional sites. Measuring application performance from the data center alone does not provide a view into problems caused by third-party services.
These services make it critical to measure performance from the only perspective that counts -- that of end-users across a wide range of devices -- and combine this information with deep-dive diagnostics. This is critical to getting to the root of problems quickly, even those occurring with third-party services outside the data center.
In addition to monitoring only from the data center, traditional application monitoring solutions often rely on sampling at various intervals to gauge performance. The problem with this approach is that it does not capture performance problems outside the testing interval, which businesses must get ahead of in order to minimize impact on revenue.
This is especially true in the mobile commerce world, since end-users are accessing sites at any time, from anywhere. Businesses must make sure that their sites are always available, 24x7, and fast for mobile users. Once again, the only way to do that is to measure performance for all applications from the true end-user perspective, around the clock.
Where Are You?
So where are you on the m-commerce continuum? After years of hearing of the arrival of mobile commerce, the promise has been fulfilled in the last 12 months, driven largely by tablet adoption. Businesses and marketers realize that the revenue-generating potential of their customer-facing applications hinges on the ability to deliver convenient experiences and ensure strong performance across a widening range of mobile browsers and devices.
By focusing on site design optimization, implementing responsive design, and measuring performance from the true end-user perspective, businesses can better prepare themselves for the brave new world of increasingly prevalent mobile purchases.