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Mobile web: Need for speed

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The internet is going mobile and consumers worldwide are demanding a faster, richer online experience, so brands must adapt their websites quickly to suit the smallest screen.

Research from Google, published in July this year, shows that the UK is one of the most connected countries in the world. Tablet usage has tripled year on year, meaning 30 per cent of the population now use one, while smartphone usage is up to 62 per cent. Significantly, the report also highlights that two thirds of smartphone users expect websites to provide a user experience that matches the one on desktop computers. 

Providing rich content quickly on the mobile web is now key to gaining conversions - in other words, getting consumers to perform actions of value to the brand. UK sex toy brand Lovehoney recently launched a responsive website that head of ecommerce Matt Curry says has “rejuvenated mobile” for the company. The move was prompted by mobile traffic to the site hitting 40 per cent of all visits.

“Our mobile conversion rate, despite being the industry norm of around one third of desktop rates, was nowhere near good enough considering this traffic volume. Our standalone mobile site, while functional, wasn’t the full Lovehoney experience that we wanted visitors to have.”

The main goal of the new site, he says, was to boost the mobile conversion rate to match – or even exceed – the company’s desktop conversion rate as well as giving mobile users access to the community side of the site in order to increase engagement. The brand adopted a ‘mobile first’ approach, ensuring that content looked good on mobile before scaling it up to tablet and desktop sizes.

“This has helped us simplify, to a large extent, and remove extraneous content that we were deploying simply to fill up a space,” Curry believes.

While he says the site isn’t completely finished yet, Lovehoney has already seen a 60 per cent increase in conversions in August 2013, compared with the previous month; “It’s not the 200 per cent increase we’d like, but once we finish [addressing] the niggles, we can start conversion optimisation on the site, targeting mobile devices specifically within our testing platform, to get this increase even higher”.

Courier network CitySprint has seen access to its site via mobile grow from 11 per cent to 18 per cent within a year, a figure which “continues to increase on a month-by-month basis,” says Sally-Anne Canning, head of marketing. In response, the company recently developed a free iOS and Android app, MyCourier, that allows customers to get a quote, book and track their deliveries in real time. The company also launched a responsive site at the end of August, allowing customers to access any of its services from any device.

In addition to aiming for a consistently good browsing experience across different devices, Canning says the new site will allow the company to tap into different markets – “particularly those looking to book a courier for an ad-hoc job via credit card, helping us to grow our business in other areas”.

Consumer goods manufacturer Unilever has reacted to the shift in consumer behaviour towards mobile browsing by collaborating with Microsoft Advertising to devise the first UK cross-platform ad campaign for its Persil laundry brand, initiated in July 2013. To support the relaunch of its Small & Mighty product, Persil’s ‘Mighty Moments’ campaign centres on four animated electronic story books. The brand used Microsoft’s ‘polymorphic’ advertising technology, which automatically adapts ads to different screens on different devices. 

According to Paul O’Grady, Unilever’s senior communications planning manager for marketing services: “Our research showed our target consumers were increasingly using mobile and tablet devices to interact online. It was therefore key for us to make the ‘Be Mighty’ stories as accessible and as user-friendly as possible in order to maintain a high level of engagement with consumers. This meant that the story books had to be designed and built for both tablet and mobile using the native functionality for each, such as scrolling from right to left on a tablet and bottom to top on a mobile.”

To accommodate numerous platforms, O’Grady acknowledges that there was an increase in the design and build time required as well as a longer quality control process, but he claims it ultimately improved consumer experience. “As part of the tablet build, we ensured the tablet version worked on desktop PCs, which meant that it could be ‘iframed’ [ie embedded] into Microsoft’s MSN website. We also worked with Microsoft to create banner advertising around the site driving to the campaign page.”

He adds that users will have the same visual experience whether accessing the story via the MSN hub or on the tablet via the Persil website, with just the layout changing to accommodate the portrait rather than landscape screen on a mobile device.

The opportunity that fashion retailer New Look has identified in the growth of mobile internet use is in the area of email marketing. Research produced by Nielsen in February 2013 shows that 68 per cent of UK smartphone owners use their device to check email within a 30-day period. Findings from MarketingSherpa’s Email Benchmark Report this year also acknowledge this trend, showing that 58 per cent of marketers see smartphones and tablets affecting their email program in the next 12 months – up from 46 per cent a year ago. This changing behaviour of consumers prompted New Look to launch a cross-channel email campaign test.

“More and more emails are being opened by consumers on mobile devices as the number of smartphones and tablets grows, so it made sense to align our strategy with this shift in consumer behaviour and ensure that our emails displayed properly on smaller screens,” says Danny Barrasso, head of multichannel digital marketing and innovation.

New Look’s email campaign was designed to drive people to its m-commerce platform. “Mobile optimisation means creating desktop emails that can be scaled down to fit an iOS screen, and focusing all content into the top left [where the Android email app automatically focuses on non-optimised emails]. Without specific care, consumers can find the mobile email experience disappointing.

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Honda has taken a ‘mobile first’ approach with a responsive website that adapts to different browser windows

“Waiting for images to download, scrolling endlessly to read a sentence, or zooming in to click a link that leads to a website offering a similar poor user experience will all put shoppers off. Working with Responsys, we converted our HTML email campaign to optimise it on mobile devices, whilst ensuring that all of the key messages and calls to action remained.”

Barrasso’s point picks up on one of the main difficulties in developing web experiences that work across multiple devices – deciding what content and functionality to retain and what to strip out. In converting its message format from HTML to mobile, New Look reduced the number of main navigation tabs, selected a different header typeface and limited text copy to three key bullet points.

“For mobile shoppers who potentially don’t have the time or patience to navigate through numerous filter options using 3G, a clear and concise email notification is important to ensure quick downloads and minimum scrolling,” says Barrasso.

The retailer has also found that where a customer has a preference for using a mobile device to view the website, the average open rate of the mobile-optimised email is three times higher than the standard HTML version. In addition, mobile users click more than once on the email, with the total number of clicks per responder being 12 per cent higher than the non-optimised email.

Yet, while the presentation and usability of online content on mobile is clearly important, the most common gripe from consumers on the mobile web is their need for speed. A global study published in August by mobile web specialist Netbiscuits reveals that in eight out of the 10 countries surveyed, page loading speed is the most important factor for consumers in their mobile web experience. In the UK and Australia security comes ahead, while in the US faster downloads, an experience closer to desktop websites and ease of use head up the items that would improve mobile web experiences.

These are all points that have been recognised by Honda. With the help of agency DigitasLBi, the vehicle and power-tool manufacturer will be launching 95 new product category websites throughout Europe over the next six months, all using a new technology platform. The first one has already launched in Spain.

European digital marketing manager Jon Gibson says: “On the web, all users, especially those with mobile devices, appreciate simplicity and speed. They have a desired task in mind and get very frustrated if they can’t complete this quickly and easily. Focusing on what works best for mobile brings these inherent benefits to all devices, and leads to a better user experience overall.”

Honda’s strategy is to focus on what it describes as “genuine user needs” by simplifying the online elements of the product research process. “Buying a car, motorcycle, or power equipment product can be a time-consuming process. It requires the user to digest of a lot of content, understand product logic, shortlist, compare, customise, find the right retailer and communicate with them effectively,” says Gibson.

The company took a ‘mobile first’ approach with a responsive design that adapts to different browser windows, which Gibson says also “acts as a guard against the bloat typical of many website projects, as stakeholders attempt to cram more and more into each page.” The approach allowed Honda’s agency team to consider what was the most important content “rather than writing a long list of features and trying to squeeze everything in”.

It is a conundrum Curry has addressed very carefully at Lovehoney, but he acknowledges that tensions between different business areas will always exist in this scenario. “There were plenty of agencies willing to take our product feed or ‘scrape’ our desktop site [for relevant content already published there] to create our mobile site, but the Lovehoney website is so much more than just a shop. We have extensive buyers’ guides, video demonstrations and our busy community forums – not things that are generally anticipated in your typical mobile commerce site,” he says.

While brands have to be able to deliver a high-quality browsing experience across multiple devices, it is still a learning curve, and one that has a sharp gradient, as Honda found out. “We bought a cupboard full of test devices at the start of the project and they are all now out of date,” says Gibson. “Understanding the evolving device ecosystem can be quite intimidating, especially as each European market changes at a different pace. We learnt the hard way that thoroughly testing for the phones and computers everyone has back in the office is essential to prevent live demo embarrassments.”

Viewpoint

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Andy Coulhurst
Managing director
Motors.co.uk

We have seen a massive leap in the number of people visiting our website from a mobile device, growing from 14 per cent in 2012 to 35 per cent in July 2013. We anticipate mobile browsing could make up around half of all traffic to the site by the end of the year. Combine this with the launch of [web development languages] HTML5 and CSS3, as well as the growing proliferation of different types and screen size of mobile device, and it was logical that we look at a responsive web platform which will be able to adapt to future technology trends.

As with every industry, the automotive sector has seen a massive shift in the way in which people search for information. The phenomenal growth of mobile browsing has made a significant impact on the way in which people research, buy and sell used vehicles, especially while on the move.

While we were not losing business through our old website, there are numerous efficiencies and benefits to be gained through the new fully responsive design which now renders correctly on different desktop and mobile devices. Indeed, our beta testing has shown tangible increases in both page views and time spent on site as well as a reduction in the bounce rate.

Although we have streamlined the site in the sense that it is now much quicker and easier to use, there is actually more content being made available to consumers and advertisers. By stripping out some of the slower coding [from old versions of the site] and replacing it with more modern technology, we have been able to speed up browsing and load times.

The biggest challenge in our marketplace is that we have been the first to invest in a fully responsive platform. No one else in the automotive listings arena has, as yet, developed a responsive site which is as big and complex as the Motors.co.uk platform. As such, we have been challenged to set the standard and create the solution, while completing rigorous multi-variant testing throughout the whole process.

In the modern digital world, it could be said that we are constantly living in ‘beta’ - we are always working on the next marketing evolution. Indeed, we already have a number of developments in the pipeline for the next stage of our website growth. Our website is only one part of a significant multimillion-pound investment in consumer marketing, which will also include major national TV advertising.

Econsultancy best practice

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Graham Charlton
Editor
Econsultancy

Mobile commerce is growing rapidly, and there are two issues holding it back: speed and security. So how can brands and retailers provide a fast and secure experience across a range of different devices? Here are five tips:

Client-side adaptation

The easiest way to provide a fast and secure experience for mobile users is through an approach called client-side adaptation. This ensures that all transaction data, including credit card and customer details, are communicated directly between the visitor and a website’s secure infrastructure. Since highly-sensitive customer data never passes through a third party, this process is just as secure as a desktop.

Reassure customers

If brands can make consumers confident of their user experience across different devices and platforms then they are less likely to worry about security. A site that loads slowly or produces errors will have a negative impact on customer confidence. A site that looks good, loads quickly and is intuitive to use will reassure any potential customers that their payment will be secure.

Provide alternative payment methods

While there is no reason to worry about the security of payments on mobile any more than the web in general, some customers will still be reluctant to submit their card details on mobile. Providing alternatives like PayPal is one way to assuage these concerns. As mobile checkouts can be a barrier to purchase, this has the added bonus of streamlining the checkout process.

Server-side strategies

The most important consideration to increase speed is to implement a server-side strategy for mobile, reducing the amount of data and work the consumer’s device has to do. Executing the user’s requests on the server rather than on the browser running on their phone enables faster page loading and better site performance.

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Keeping page size down

As mentioned above, speed not only improves the user experience, but also increases consumer confidence in a site. Don’t be swayed to include fancy graphics or pages that take a long time to download. Speed is absolutely vital on mobile.

Case study

Renful

Airport security firm Renful provides technology such as bag scanning and X-ray scanning equipment to airports worldwide, including Luton Airport. It recently worked with design agency JBi to develop a responsive website.

“Our old website was very dated and badly structured,” says Renful general manager Moshe Cohen. “This meant the customer’s online journey wasn’t streamlined. Ultimately, every website should have an objective. In our case it was to showcase our security solutions in an appealing, easy-to-digest way and then to lead the potential client to contact us. The old website wasn’t designed to do this.

“This was also true of the mobile experience – we know more and more people are accessing our site from their smartphone and doing so would likely have been a frustrating experience with the old site.”

The original site was also difficult to update with new content, as the content management system was hard to manage for people without web development skills, says Cohen.

The biggest challenge when building the website was how Renful could arrange all of its different products and services in a way that would make it easy for users to find exactly what they wanted. “JBi guided us and suggested ways in which we could improve the user experience and drive more sales from the website,” Cohen explains. “For example, they suggested a ‘quick enquiry’ contact form should be placed on many of the pages – including product pages – to help prompt potential customers to get in touch.”

Just over a month after the launch of the new site, Renful has already seen an increase in website enquiries compared with the same period last year, with many of these extra leads coming from the quick enquiry contact form. “Looking at Google analytics, we can see a 40 per cent increase in the number of users accessing the site via their mobile,” Cohen claims. “We have also seen an improvement in the number of pages and average visit duration of clients visiting the site.”

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