[Podcast] Leadership Agenda For Mobile Commerce Optimization

[Note: transcript is not edited for grammar and spelling]

Today we're going to discuss Mobile Commerce Optimization. We're going to define it, explain its commercial importance, and set forth a leadership agenda for transforming how a development team thinks about and delivers mobile optimized experiences.

A few quick facts. Globally, there are more people accessing the internet from a mobile device than desktops or laptops. Google reports that search traffic from mobile devices has surpassed the number of desktop searches.

But as mobile traffic increases, the challenge it creates for e-commerce teams is, as the data shows, mobile users don’t convert at the same rates as desktop users. Mobile traffic converts less than desktop traffic. And this is the basis of why a Mobile Commerce Optimization strategy is important, and that we understand what it means and have a framework for implementing it correctly.

What is Mobile Commerce Optimization?

Let's start by asking the question “What is mobile commerce optimization?” It’s one of those questions if you ask 10 people on a digital team, you'll likely get 10 different answers.

If you ask a UI designer, the answers will likely focus on page-level UI elements or a popular design trend. For example, designing layouts that adapt to the screen size… otherwise known as responsive design. They may answer using bigger buttons and dynamic font sizes.

If you ask a developer, their answers will focus on application architecture and the tech stack. They'll say mobile optimization is about achieving fast page loads, script minification, indexing and caching schemes, and whether they should build a native mobile app or a web app or deploy Accelerated Mobile Pages.

If you ask a sales manager, you'll get an entirely different answer. To them mobile optimization is giving all sales people in the field an iPad and a cellular plan.

While topics such as site performance and responsive page structures should indeed be part of a mobile optimization plan, on their own they fall short of painting a complete picture of what Mobile Commerce Optimization actually is.

Mobile Commerce Optimization Defined

Mobile Commerce Optimization is the process of creating user interfaces that deliver high usability and are fit use on a mobile device where screens sizes are substantially smaller than the desktop and users engage using touch input.

The foundation of this definition is usability. All the other stuff a digital team will tell you Mobile Commerce Optimization is: site performance, mobile design patterns, etc. are thin layers, albeit important in their own right, on top of the deep foundation of usability.

It's also important to state that, as with any optimization program, Mobile Commerce Optimization is a process. It's not a result or an outcome. It's a set of repeatable activities digital teams perform whereby user-centric thinking drives design of interfaces that are usable and meet the needs of your mobile customer and how they interact with your store in a mobile context.

The key phrase here is Mobile Context. Effective Mobile Commerce Optimization will largely be driven by how well an organization understands the 'mobile context' of its customers which can be dramatically different from one organization to the next.

Let's explore the phrase 'mobile context' for a moment… and how a user's mobile context drives unique needs… because these unique needs are what we want to optimize for. This is what we mean when we say Mobile Commerce Optimization is user-centric. Because the user's needs are the core from which all design decisions are made.

Let's go through an exercise to show you want I mean.

Let's say you're a local branch for a distributor that sells hardware and parts to plumbers and HVAC technicians who often times need to order parts from a client site and be able to pickup and install those parts all in the same day.

In this scenario, the mobile context can be explained as the following:

  • First, the user is mobile. They're in the field. They are not at their desk or in an office and their location can vary from day to day, hour to hour.

  • Accessing your store on a mobile device with a small screen, touch input.

  • Can be in areas with poor connectivity.

  • Need same-day pick-up.

  • Able and expect to drive to pick up parts. Want efficient driving routes to reduce drive time and maximize billable activities.

  • The parts they need from job to job are unknown.

  • Parts are warehoused in multiple nearby location.

  • Rarely carry credit cards on them.

Unique needs driven by the mobile context.

  1. Same-day pickup

  2. An efficient way to find parts

  3. Must check parts compatibility

  4. Real-time inventory data

  5. Preview pickup schedules

  6. Invoice billing directly to a corporate account

  7. Driving directions to pick up location

This is an example of how understanding the mobile context drives the solution design and informs us about what features to build, what capabilities we need to support, and how we should design the interface in ways that it’s optimized for mobile users.

Hopefully you're starting to see why we say Mobile Commerce Optimization is more than implementing responsive page layouts, or making the buttons on your site bigger, or building a native app for iOS or Android.

MCO is about understanding the user, their mobile context, how that context drives needs that are distinctly from desktop users, and building features that meet their needs and delivering them through an interface that's usable on a small screen with touch input.

Why Mobile Commerce Optimization Is Important

Why is it important for e-commerce leaders to optimize for mobile customers?

I mean, yeah it sounds like a good idea, but what are the commercial benefits? What's the payoff?

Well, one way to look at it is this…

Mobile is so difficult to design for, not just for e-commerce sites, but all sites. Because great mobile experiences eludes most companies, effective mobile optimization can be a competitive advantage, especially for transactional web sites that drive leads, quotes and revenue.

Your competitive analysis will determine how effective your competitors are with mobile.

It can be a way to earn greater returns on mobile traffic versus lower performing competitors. Mobile optimization can reveal opportunities to seize upon to create higher ROI from ad spend and lower customer acquisition costs.

My Experience and Observations

In my own experiences as an e-commerce consultant, most organizations lack even a surface level understanding of how to design for mobile. Especially B2B companies.

I know many e-commerce managers that believe a mobile-optimized site means responsive design… and nothing else.

And I find this particularly shocking in organizations that have the resources to attract and hire e-commerce talent, because it shows an unmistakable absence of what should be fundamental knowledge among digital specialists by this point.

But the knowledge gap is not only the fault of the individual digital specialist. If fault were to be handed out, it must also be assigned to the people that interview them, assess their skills and knowledge and ultimately hire them.

One can only conclude that when e-commerce teams and their leaders lack even the most basic knowledge of mobile commerce optimization… it’s a leadership issue.

The Leadership Agenda

Now we'll set out an agenda for business leaders to change and transform how their organizations think of and approach Mobile Commerce Optimization.

The leadership agenda is divided into two parts. The first part are questions and the second part are actions.

The questions are what e-commerce leaders need to ask themselves and their team in search of honest and accurate answers. These question act as thought provokers that get you thinking about the knowledge and capabilities of your team as they are today and where you need to focus your attention going forward.

  1. How are mobile customers impacting our business?

  2. What is our definition for Mobile Commerce Optimization?

  3. What is the 'mobile context' for each e-commerce customer segment?

  4. What data do we collect about how mobile users interact with our commerce sites?

  5. What role does usability research and data play in our UX/UI design process?

Assuming we've asked ourselves these questions and taken the time to mine accurate, detailed and honest answers… the next step a create our list of leadership actions which then become our agenda.

Leadership Actions are actions to consider when incorporating Mobile Commerce Optimization into your UX/UI design process.

Establish a universal definition of 'Mobile Commerce Optimization’

The e-commerce leader must be aware of how mobile customers are impacting their business and that they have unique needs much different than office-bound desktop users, and that the mobile user experience must be paid attention to.

If this is true in your organization, it's now time to establish a single universal, undisputed definition of Mobile Commerce Optimization that has 100% buy in per a mandate.

It's leaderships role to create this definition and it's crucial it has the characteristics of being customer-centric and rooted in usability.

To no fault of their own, if we allow designers, engineer and members of the digital team to create this definition, it will be biased towards the priorities and needs of their individual groups and will miss the target we're trying to hit which is usability.

The definition of Mobile Commerce Optimization must emphasize site usability over design patterns, application architecture and technology.

The reason why is if our definition emphasizes usability, it elevates the importance of leveraging usability research and data to drive your UX/UI design decisions.

And this is the critical success factor.

In my experiences, e-commerce teams that don't leverage usability data to drive UX/UI decisions all too often implement bad design patterns that lead to unnecessarily high levels of site abandonment.

On these teams, design decisions often go unchecked because they come from senior team members with little e-commerce UX knowledge, but they have the most influence because they're senior team members, usually higher on the pay scale, and they feel compelled to act as if they’re an authority on the subject matter when in fact they are not.

This is a sad state of affairs, but one I've seen time and time again.

The cure is incorporating usability data in your design process. We'll go deeper into this in a moment.

Analyze and document the 'mobile context' for each customer segment

This is a UX research activity and you need to go deep because getting this right will depend on how much empathy you build for your mobile user.

It's a good idea to interview your customers directly or ride-along with them. You need to walk in their shoes do this part right and be prepared for it to take some time.

There's no shortcuts here, but if done thoroughly it will reveal valuable customer insights your product owner (or whoever drives product enhancements on your e-commerce team) will then use to fill your backlog up with new features.

Mobile-context insights drives product enhancements and feature development.

Mobile commerce optimization involves designing and implementing these features so they are highly usable on a small screen that accepts touch input.

Adopt a set of research-backed UX guidelines.

This is an essential, mandatory action in your leadership agenda. This is a game-changer and it's what you see on the teams running the top e-commerce sites in the world.

You must adopt a set of research-backed UX guidelines and drive your design decisions from those guidelines.

There are many benefits to adopting a set of UX guidelines, but before we discuss them I want to call out an all-important requirement is that the UX guidelines your organization adopts must be derived from in-depth, large-scale e-commerce usability research.

There's no shortage of designers, bloggers and other self-proclaimed UX experts blogging about 'best practices' for delivering great e-commerce user experiences.

But the unfiltered truth is almost all of these recommendations are at best theoretical, unproven, unsubstantiated and absent of empirical data to backup the recommendation. They do little to actually improve the user experience for your mobile customers. What they do effectively is waste your time and resources implementing them.

Business leaders responsible for building competitive e-commerce businesses should steer clear of any UX guidelines that aren't backed by usability data from a credible research firm.

UX guidelines that aren't rooted in extensive usability research have no place in an organization serious about building a competitive e-commerce business.

I can't emphasize this enough and one of the firms I think does this the best, and by that I mean has a first class e-commerce research methodology and has a vast library of e-commerce usability data and related UX guidelines… the best I've seen, is Baymard Institute. And you can look them up at www.baymard.com.

When I say business leaders should adopt a set of research-backed UX guidelines to steer the development of mobile optimized interfaces, it's UX guidelines like those created by Baymard that I'm talking about.

Update Your UX/UI Design Process

The next leadership action is updating your UX/UI design process and its reference documentation and incorporate your definition of Mobile Commerce Optimization, the findings of your mobile context analysis and any design asset submitted for review must consider your newly adopted, research-backed UX guidelines.

The objective here is to make smarter design decisions that generate the business outcome of a truly mobile-optimized site. Your design process needs to transform in ways that produce interfaces that meet the needs and expectations of your mobile customer and achieve a high level of usability.

Audit Your Site

And lastly, you want to audit your current site. The objective here is to drive out bad mobile design patterns that made their way into product, but conflict with the UX guidelines that are now steering your interface design decisions.

Want to replace design patterns that cause friction for mobile users with interfaces optimized for mobile user interaction.