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Eight Top Tips to Optimize Mobile e-Commerce

A design that fits every device -- a key priority for your online store.
A design that fits every device — a key priority for your online store. // Image source:

Good news! Mobile e-commerce shot up 31% in the first quarter of 2013 — compared to 20% growth for all e-commerce, and nearly 4% for in-store. That’s a significant gain, and it underscores the building momentum that mobile retail shopping.

But here’s the bad news: you’re missing out if your online store is optimized for desktop computers.

Whether you’re just starting to build a mobile site, or you’re looking to spiff up your current one, here are 8 tips to help you optimize.

Think finger-friendly.

Forget the sleek, diminuitive mouse pointer gliding across your desktop screen. In the mobile world there’s no subtle maneuverability; no deft precision clicks. What you have is a finger. A big, mushy finger that’s not prone to fine motor skills. A finger that’s probably being jiggled around by the wheels of the city bus landing in a pothole, or the train clattering into the station. They call it “mobile” for a reason — people are on the go. Design for these people.

Go bigger. No, bigger.

If you’ve used a smartphone before, you know how frustrating it is to try to select a tiny link swimming in a sea of other content. Buttons should be large and have space cushions for easy tapping. All text should be readable at a distance. Menu items, categories, and input boxes should have enough height to be easily selected. Go nuts.

But stay small for some things.

Forms for example. No one likes filling out pages of forms at checkout on a desktop site — and it’s even worse in a mobile environment when your actions are controlled by that big mushy finger. So eliminate all unnecessary form fields and actions. Keep descriptions and copy brief. You want to fill the space you have, but in the mobile world you have a much smaller space to fill.

Test, and test again.

Even with the best of intentions, things sometimes go wonky. Buttons get half-covered; text disappears, links are rendered un-clickable. There’s a whole section on e-Commerce Outtakes devoted to functionality and usability goof-ups. Browse through and learn from others’ errors — and keep testing, in different devices and browsers and among your users. Heck, hand your grandma an iPad and ask her to shop around your site to see what the process is like for her. Make sure to give her your credit card to check out — after all those years of sending you birthday checks, it wouldn’t be right letting her pay!

Different designs for smartphones and tablets.

You already know that you can’t squeeze the desktop version of your site into smartphone-sized screen. But many people still make the mistake of ignoring tablet- and iPad-sized screens. You can’t just design for the smallest size and expect that it will expand nicely to fill midrange devices. It doesn’t. A good rule of thumb right now is to design separately for small, medium, and large screens — that way your customers will have the best chance of a shopping experience that’s “just right” for their devices.

Put the customer first.

Hey, the best design in the world doesn’t matter if the customer can’t use it. It all goes back to the core marketing adage of “know your audience.” Value function over form. Think of how your customer would want to use your mobile store — then build the store specifically to meet those needs.

Seriously solid security.

You’ve got the desktop version of your store locked up tight. Have you put the same systems in place for your mobile and tablet versions? No one wants to shop at a store — mobile, desktop, or brick-and-mortar — when they suspect their credit card information might be vulnerable.

Nothing fancy.

Keep it simple, clean, and basic. Most smartphones and tablets can’t recognize what “hovering” is, for example — so if you have some functionality that relies on a user’s hovering action such as flyout menus, that user is out of luck. Limit the special effects and shoppers will have a better chance of sticking around. Remember, over 60% of shoppers will seek solace in the comforting arms of a competitor’s mobile site if they have a bad experience on yours. No funny stuff!

What mobile e-commerce tips would you add here?


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