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Is virtual window shopping on mobile devices key to purchase decision-making?

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Online shopping is entering a new chapter. Sales via mobile devices, usually tablets or touch-screen phones are rising and are often quite distinct from sales via laptops or desktop computers. Window shopping on a mobile device is now also increasingly a key part of the research phase of making a purchase. Window shopping has gone virtual.

People now use their tablets in the same way they used to glance at shop windows or flick through magazines, when they are in cafes or on the move. But consumers are still not confident enough about their devices or the reliability of the connections to make a purchase, so they wait till they’re home or in front of a device with a keyboard, to actually complete the process.

This mobile touch-screen stage tends to be more social too, it’s where people share ideas and look for inspiration, as well as compare products and prices. If online retailers do not provide a suitable browsing experience for virtual window shopping, then they risk losing the customer altogether. Last year 15% of our sales at Spreadshirt started with this sort of browsing and we’re expecting that to rise to 25% this year as the trend takes off.

PwC’s recent research is likewise very telling. It shows that while consumers are getting more comfortable with mobile shopping, 57% of UK online shoppers are tending to limit it to five or fewer retailers citing reasons of trust and price. If your site isn’t optimised for use from their touch-screen device are you going to be one of their top five retailers?

So, what should retailers be looking out for in order to respond to this development?

Firstly, developing specifically for touch devices is a very good practice. While it might be easy to keep adding functions and complexity to a desktop version, this should be the opposite for mobile. Concentrate on the core things your customers really care about. Which functionality do they need to browse and buy on your site? The touch experience needs to be much simpler and more intuitive since it’s happening on a smaller screen. If you apply these fundamentals to your desktop experience you will also end up with a much simpler site to use, happier customers, and a better business.

Are you watching consumer behaviour? E-commerce doesn’t always develop in the way we’re expecting. Browsing is happening everywhere now, in all sorts of previously unused time spots. Retailers need to watch their customers’ shopping behaviour and adapt accordingly. Are you seeing rush hour peaks as commuters kill time waiting for transport? Are there spikes in online activity in the evening, but with purchases completed in the early morning before work? These could be signs that your customers are using their touch-screen devices for pre-sales browsing.

High basket abandonment is the curse of the online retailer. This can be addressed through an improved pre-sales experience, where consumers can try things out, add things to their basket or update their wish list in little pockets of time. When customisation is involved, purchases via mobile devices tend to result in less complex designs and smaller, but converted, baskets. Successful online retailers however, are offering consumers a two-pronged approach: the opportunity to start the design process on a touch-screen device and then refine their idea on a laptop later.

And don’t get distracted by an app. It’s all about meeting the needs of your consumers, not about having the latest technology bauble. By looking at our consumers’ activity, we discovered that touch-device activity forms 20% of Spreadshirt’s global traffic, most of which comes via search. So we’ll be concentrating on creating responsive design interfaces for touch screen browsers in 2014; making it easier for consumers, brands and their fans to create, sell and buy ideas on merchandising.

Touch devices are becoming a key part of the online shopping process. Being able to browse, store and share liked products on the move, to buy later, is now a vital part of the pre-sales experience. Retailers need to catch-up with this and make sure their browsing experience is touch-device-friendly enough or risk falling behind.

Published on Thursday 17 April by Editorial Assistant

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