Chain Store Age: Tech Guest Viewpoint - Poor Mobile Performance Can Mean Missing Out

March 30, 2015

By Carin van Vuuren, Usablenet

If there was ever any doubt of mobile’s essential role to retail success, the most recent holiday shopping season should put that to bed. Last year, more than 40% of all Cyber Monday sales came from mobile devices. In fact, Amazon stated that almost 60% of its customers shopped via mobile during the 2014 holiday season, with total U.S. sales from its app doubling from 2013.

Mobile has inarguably come into its own as a primary driver of sales, brand engagement and more. But aside from breaking e-commerce revenue records, what does mobile’s prominence mean for retail’s busiest seasons?

The reality is that rising preference for e-commerce, and mobile in particular, combined with timely, highly attractive promotions, creates massive amounts of Web traffic on a scale that has changed the way brands must approach mobile design and prepare for busy seasons.

Yet not every retailer has been prepared for what mobile’s rapid adoption means for their IT systems and the end customer experience. The rapid growth of mobile has led not only to increased Web traffic, but also to high consumer expectations across platforms. A popular anecdote in e-commerce today is that if a page does not load in a few seconds, a viewer will leave for a competitor.

Hence electronics giant Best Buy’s decision to shut down its entire Website on Black Friday, referencing a “concentrated spike in mobile traffic” that overwhelmed its systems. The company judged that it would be better to take the site down completely, rather than allow consumers to try to purchase under slow, underperforming conditions.

Issues like this were seen worldwide in various sectors: U.K. retailers like Boots and TopShop also experienced unprecedented traffic and service outages. Increased Web traffic and resulting performance issues have created an environment where the potential for a website crash or massive slowdown is high and brands risk missing out on millions of dollars in minutes - not to mention diminished customer loyalty.

With consumers increasingly making purchases via smartphones and tablets, mobile performance has become a key differentiator between leading brands and the rest of the pack. Yet, delivering swift, effective and satisfying mobile experiences has proven difficult. As retailers look to add integrations to websites, ensuring features are translated to mobile without impacting performance will only pose more of a challenge.

While Web traffic and network latency often result in sluggish speeds, “weight” also plays a crucial role. Sites using responsive design, for example, which dynamically configure the experience for each channel, often deliver content which is never displayed on mobile, causing unnecessarily long load times.

The balance between presentation and functionality can be fragile. Responsive design provides adequately designed, yet slow-loading sites while dedicated mobile sites have swift speed and good usability, but require additional resources to manage. Many brands employ server-side technologies to try to process only what an individual user needs, accelerating speed and eliminating unnecessary content. However, companies must also weigh how to effectively distribute computation load between server and browser.

Adaptive delivery taps into this by providing experiences optimized for different devices through a unique front-end. Since this approach includes a common data layer that supports multiple mobile experiences, changes can be made to a device-specific page without impacting other devices.

Broadly, one of the strongest ways to ensure the right mobile balance is struck is to encourage close collaboration between marketing and IT teams. Such collaboration is essential to identifying and executing achievable mobile goals; while marketers are vital to understanding the customer and managing the brand experience, IT supports the development of the technologies needed to execute strategies.

As mobile becomes key to determining retail success or failure, brands must take strides to ensure performance is up to par. This is especially true during the busiest shopping seasons, when increased Web traffic can multiply performance problems and create situations that lead to missed revenue and poor customer experiences. Leading brands prioritize speed and balance presentation with functionality to ensure performance and create experiences that not only impact customer satisfaction, but long-term loyalty and willingness to recommend a brand.

Read the article on Chain Store Age

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