Site testing is a must with growing acceptance of mcommerce: experts

As consumers become more open to mobile commerce, retailers and brands need to work on ensuring that the mobile site experience matches that of the desktop PC.

Site testing has increasingly become more important due to consumers’ growing acceptance of mobile commerce.

Mobile users expect to make sacrifices – in content depth and its presentation – in exchange for anyplace, anytime convenience, but the one thing they will not sacrifice is speed.

“A recent survey found 58 percent of mobile phone users expect Web sites to load as quickly on their phones as on their desktops,” said Matt Poepsel, vice president of performance strategies at Gomez, Lexington, MA.

“This means – mobile sites must be fast, reliable and consistent,” he said. “In fact, the very nature of mobile commerce places an even higher premium on speed and reliability, since people often use their mobile phones to make quick purchases while they have a few spare minutes, or to augment the in-store shopping experience – for example, comparing a product price in one store to a competitive store.

“Simply put, if the mobile site experience you deliver is frustrating or disappointing, you risk alienating your customers or sending them straight to your competitors.”

Consider testing
Companies should take into account a lot of different variables when site testing.

First, companies should make sure that their end-users can find their mobile site and whether it is indexed by major search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing.

Companies should also see if the links displayed lead to mobile-optimized pages and if they are delivering the correct mobile-optimized content to all users – no matter what device they use.

Next, companies need to ensure that the mobile site content is displayed properly on the most popular devices used by consumers that deliver the most return on investment.

“There are tools available to quickly show how your mobile site renders on several popular devices,” Mr. Poepsel said. “From there, you need to make sure mobile site downloads and transactions are as fast and reliable as they can be on your highest-priority devices.

“Mobile sites should load, ideally in three seconds or less,” he said. “You’ve also got to make sure that multi-step transactions can be completed quickly in the mobile context.

“Part of this is ensuring a mobile site that’s specifically designed for easy navigation by a mobile user, who may be in a rush or typing with just a thumb, for example.”

It is key to deliver a mobile site tailored to the capabilities of the device a customer uses.

For example, a site that is optimized for high-end devices can leverage the latest HTML5 features versus a site that is optimized for lower-end devices.

According to Mr. Poepsel, the most important piece is to test a company’s mobile site from the perspective of end-users.

“You need to look back at your site the same way your customers and users do by operating and running it from the outside in,” Mr. Poepsel said. “It means you need to test and regularly monitor your site the same way your customers use it.”

Growth of mcommerce
Mobile commerce represents a huge and growing revenue opportunity that is just beginning.
Businesses that cannot deliver strong mobile site experiences will be slow out of the gate – and may never catch up.

“Site testing is important because site performance is all about offering a great shopping experience that is fast, secure and performs well,” said Adi Rustgi, director of product management at Digby, Texas.

“When the sites are thoroughly tested and performing well in both aspects of functional and performance testing domains, it helps establish an engaging experience between the retailer and the shopper,” he said. “That has direct effect on the transaction sales and the success of the retailer’s mobile commerce site.

Mr. Rustgi said that there are multiple components of site testing to make sure that consumers enjoy a mobile commerce experience.

The first is functional testing, which involves insuring that the retail shopping functions – navigating from categories to products, adding items to carts and check-out – perform per the retailer’s business rules.

The second is performance testing that ensures that consumers get speedy access to the products they want to search, browse and buy at any time of the day with various levels of load on the Web site.

“Different tools and techniques are used for both of those aspects of site testing,” Mr. Rustgi said.

Additionally, the executive said that there are various techniques for cramming data in smaller packages and decreasing the page download time.

“All of this is done more effectively through the use of a mobile commerce platform that uses data feeds from the retailer,” Mr. Rustgi said.

Mr. Rustgi’s  first tip for cramming data is understanding that customers are looking for easy access to content and an elegant and simple site design.

Companies should keep in mind not to go heavy on the images and JavaScripts. Smaller page sizes lead to reduced download time.

There should also be usage of a content delivery network for serving static content such as images, stylesheets and JavaScript.

This lets customers obtain their content from servers that are closer to them, thereby reducing download time,” per Mr. Rustgi.

“Companies should also be more efficient in presenting content through the use of schemes like pagination,” Mr. Rustgi said. “Also, being intentional in the amount of content that is relevant to a mobile user helps in ensuring that the page sizes are small and download times are fast.

“My final top is zipping the network traffic before content is served,” he said. “Current modern mobile browsers are capable of unzipping content retrieved from the server.”

Evolution of mobile
According to David Brussin, CEO of Monetate, Philadelphia, site testing has evolved to encompass site architecture, experience interaction and targeted content – really any and all elements within a site.

“Testing has evolved beyond what works for all my visitors to what works for each of my key segments,” Mr. Brussin said. “This means that the ability to tailor content and messaging is key, and the mobile device user is a perfect example of a segment that requires a tailored experience to maximize conversion.

“Testing shouldn’t be viewed through the prism of pass or fail, rather it should be viewed as learning and evolving,” he said. “Sites need to continually evaluate the experience and messages they are presenting to consumers and the more marketers are testing their sites, the more power they have to engage their audience and understand their wants and expectations.

“Testing is a key component to the ongoing conversation between a brand and its customers.”

Companies doing site testing want to ensure that all features and functionality run properly, that the user interface standards are met, that the site works on all devices and that it is light and loads quickly.

“Users have come to expect the same standards on a mobile site as they do on their desktop,” said Nick Taylor, president of Usablenet, New York. “If the mobile site doesn’t meet these expectations, brands run the risk of losing customers and potential purchases.

“Mobile sites need to be tested in the same way as Web sites – everyday, throughout the day and regression tested for any release,” he said. “If a page loads too slowly, users will likely leave the mobile site.

“If they read a marketing email on a phone and the link doesn’t take them to the mobile-optimized view, brands are losing out on potential purchases. A site that is consistently failing risks losing customers to competitors with better performing sites.”

Understanding the user experience is key to creating the best performing mobile sites.

HTML5 is extremely powerful and can help in reducing load times.

Additionally, functionality such as expandable navigation and scrolling promotional banners lets brands power the same exciting content and experience that they do on their desktop Web sites, while at the same time making the pages lighter and easier to navigate on a mobile device.

“Don’t wait until a mobile site is fully baked – in your mind – and ready to launch before you test,” said Steve Timpson, president of siteminis, Atlanta.

“Usability testing is an ongoing and iterative process,” he said. “Look at your competition for comparative usability testing.

“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”