Mobile usage has hit a tipping point: the latest figures reveal that upwards of 77% of consumers now go online solely via the mobile. But, while this shift is prompting companies to develop serious mobile strategies, ascertaining the right approach, understanding how consumers want to interact and, critically, encouraging consumers to do more than just browse via mobile is still a work in progress.
From the limitation of current bandwidth to the multiplicity of mobile devices, operating systems and interfaces, and the very different user trends evolving based on market and device type, the mobile market raises new levels of complexity. But it also presents a raft of new opportunities to gain far closer interaction with customers.
So just how can a business confidently embark upon a mobile commerce strategy? Testing is not just about optimising performance: it is a critical component of the mobile strategy to enable organisations to understand customer behaviour, justify the business case and continually refine the mobile offering to reflect evolving consumer needs and deliver highly personal content and easy to use services.
The shift from desktop to mobile clearly requires a different approach to content creation: most organisations recognise that a standard website is never going to work for small format mobile devices and that consumers are typically looking for different products, services and experiences during a mobile interaction.
Consumers are not going to be making mortgage or credit card applications via the mobile. Nor are they likely to browse holiday destinations on a small screen. They are, however, likely to order flowers or book theatre tickets.
The challenge, therefore, is to determine the best mobile development model. Should the company develop an optimised web site, dedicated app, or a hybrid solution that is essentially a simple app that provides interaction with the core web site? Would responsive design make a difference to response rates? And what about tablet users? Should they be treated as mobile users or desktop? How should both content and usability be tailored to reflect the functionality within the tablet for the touchscreen user?
Organisations need to understand how users want to interact with the business via mobile - and having made a basic hypothesis, multivariate testing plays a critical role in justifying the strategy.
At the most basic level, an organisation can test the importance of a mobile optimised site: sending 50% of users to a dedicated mobile site and the other 50% to the traditional web site will provide a clear measure of conversion rates - and typically confirm that an optimised model is more successful.
Similarly, testing can help to refine ideas and provide insight into the way customers are interacting, enabling the organisation to build a business case and prioritise key areas of activity.
Indeed, with the continuing evolution of mobile usage - from the rapid adoption of tablets to the arrival of 4G - the way users interact will continue to change. It is, therefore, important to keep measuring: the mobile strategy cannot be set in stone. As the market matures, so must the strategy and the way content is delivered.
Indeed the process of continual refinement and optimisation is even more critical for the mobile market than traditional web. While research reveals that, today, users are somewhat more tolerant of a slow experience via mobiles due to network limitations, there is growing demand for content relevance and usability. If a user wants to check a bank balance via the mobile, there may be tolerance for network delays, but not for a design that is hard to use on a small screen.
In the mobile market, personalisation and the delivery of highly targeted, relevant content is essential. Yet given the constraints of the devices, organisations do not have the luxury of providing vast amounts of content and hoping that something sticks. And that means not only collecting user information to gain customer insight but continually testing content not only to optimise performance and improve response but, critically, check the quality of user experience.
It is also important to recognise the real opportunities of mobile: despite the challenges - many of which will disappear as the market becomes more mature - mobile is not just a cut down version of traditional web. With opportunities to exploit location based content, organisations can be far more creative in building the interaction. For example, a call me button makes perfect sense on a mobile; as does the provision of directions to the nearest bricks and mortar location.
Providing an in-store mobile experience that enhances and helps the overall purchase process is also becoming increasingly important as consumers come to expect a more relevant and holistic engagement across all touchpoints with a brand. And organisations can also use the mobile content to actively encourage users to follow the preferred mobile strategy - such as downloading an app. With the right approach, organisations can rapidly gain deep insight into customer behaviour and transform current confusion and lack of confidence into a robust and revenue generating mobile strategy.
It is clear that the mobile marketplace offers huge potential for businesses. But consumer behaviour will vary considerably dependent upon business type, product or service on offer - and the quality of experience. Failure to understand this difference; to determine a strategy that reflects true customer behaviour; and to create relevant, personalised content and usable services will risk significantly undermining an increasingly critical aspect of revenue generation and customer retention.
Testing underpins every aspect of the mobile web strategy. But testing itself also demands far more rigour in this environment to take into account the diversity of devices, network speeds and user behaviours. When testing different call to action content or checkout buttons, for example, on a traditional web page basic assumptions can be made about screen size and the use of one of four interfaces.
On mobile there are so many more variables to consider: one call to action may be fine on a Samsung Galaxy, but too wide for an iPhone4. With so many extra considerations, it is essential to be far more rigorous when defining the tests but, also, clearly critical to ensure the user experience is not ruined by failing to test every possible combination.
By taking a structured approach to testing, organisations can not only deliver the best user experience but also confidently begin to explore the added benefits and flexibility the mobile offers to gain stronger interactions with customers and tap into that pent up demand for mobile services.