Get Mobile or Die Tryin'

Doing business online has never been as complicated as it is today, or looked at from another POV, has never held so many options to succeed.  The question is, are you a “glass is half full” or “glass is half empty” kind of person.  More importantly, what is your company’s view of things.

I recently had an interaction that’s becoming all too commonplace.

I tried to make an impulse purchase via my smartphone.  I saw a garment someone was wearing, I liked it and wanted it for myself. (Don’t worry, no fashion faux pas here, as he lives on the East Coast and I’m on the West Coast… ;) )

Off to the website I went, and after signing up for the requisite account before I could browse their wares (don’t get me started on this trend…), I was in.  Found the article of clothing in question and was all set to buy it.  Now, it was an expensive item, as clothing goes.  But I was not to be deterred.  This was, after all, an “impulse” purchase, I wasn’t thrift-shopping here.  Then the giant #FAIL happened.

You can probably guess this, but I’ll spell it out.

The site simply wasn’t designed with mobile in mind.  So their “hover” action, which not only allowed me to see the sizes available, but also included the “put in cart” button, simply didn’t work.  Now before you all get in my face about me rockin’ a Windows Phone and “this wouldn’t happen on an iPhone”, guess again.  Like so many, I have access to the iPhone…the site failed there, too.

Later that night, the site failed on my Surface, on an iPad and on my Kindle Fire.

At this point I’d given up on the purchase idea, but did want to send an email to this site explaining this huge missed opportunity.  Talk about getting out of your own way to success.

The very next day I got a response, expressing concern over my frustration and asking for greater detail because, after talking with the development team, no one understood what the problem was that I was having.  Their own design and development people didn’t understand the limitations of using a web-only site in the mobile environment.  WOW!

So step by step I walked through what I was seeing, and now, having an actual email address in hand, I took screen shots and attached them so they could repro the issue on their end.

A week later, their marketing person responded that after a deep review, their designer/developer (who happens to be the same person), concluded there was no issue and that my own settings were causing this problem.  After all, sales were steady (nevermind they just did a TV commercial), so obviously this issue I was seeing was a one-off, he felt.

I suggested to the marketing person perhaps they should have a discussion with their Human Resources department about the skills required for the role of designer/developer at their company.  While I framed this as a joke, I was more than a little bit serious.

The main issue here is understanding how your site, features, products, etc. behave in a multi-modal environment.  Does it look good on a big desktop monitor?  How about a 7” tablet?  Smartphone? Big screen television? Yes, the list is long, but the stakes are high, so invest in the testing, or suffer as this example points out.

Today’s environment is just the tip of the iceberg, too.  Every step forward we see today, is opening the door towards two news ones tomorrow.  New technologies, lighter, faster mobile devices, standardization around tablet sizes (10” – 11” and the 7” ranges seem to be our norm right now), expanded entertainment options through devices like xBox create an ever-changing field for you to compete in.

While so many trends come back in style if you wait long enough (looking straight at you bell bottoms and skinny jeans), having a website stuck at the turn of the millennium and remaining unresponsive as your customer’s desires grow will never come back in fashion.

It remains difficult for many businesses to adopt a fast-twitch response to keep up with the latest and greatest, but in a world where brand affinity and loyalty is dwindling, it’s tough to stick to the old methods and remain successful long term.  So many of today’s population view Internet security very differently than the first generation of Internet dwellers/shoppers.  They *assume* security, while the past generation requires proof.  This means the latest and greatest of online stores stands every chance of beating a big brand to the punch if they cater to the shoppers whims and impress them with not only a solid deal, but an excellent experience as well.

And that company in our example?  A couple of months after we’d communicated, they emailed to offer me a discount on anything in the store.  Seems they hired some new folks in design/development, revamped the site and were all about mobile now.  Indeed a follow up visit showed a much improved experience across devices.  I never did make a purchase with them, though their offer was appreciated.  Turns out I got well and truly over that impulse and started shopping elsewhere.

Too bad, too, because had it worked the first time, I’d have probably been hooked.

Duane Forrester
Sr. Product Marketing Manager
Bing Webmaster Tools