How People Shop On Mobile & What That Means

The time for describing mobile devices as the future of ecommerce is long gone — they’re the present, and the recent past. It’s estimated that the mobile share of total ecommerce revenue across the globe will exceed 70% by next year. Desktops and laptops are unlikely to ever be fully dislodged, but the smartphone is firmly established as the top dog.

This massive platform shift has left a major impact on the worlds of UX and CRO, as well as digital marketing in general. This is because the mobile buying experience is fundamentally different from its predecessor — it looks different, it functions differently, and it takes place in a very different context.

This is great news for the online-facing businesses that embrace change and innovation, and a big challenge for companies that are slow to react. In this piece, we’re going to look more closely at how people shop on mobile, and consider the implications for digital design.

The importance of micro-moments

Apparently coined by Google (though that may be apocryphal), the term ‘micro-moments’ refers to the fleeting intent-driven impulses we encounter during everyday life — impulses that could go nowhere before smartphones gave us 24/7 online access, but were free to flourish and proliferate once we started carrying powerful computers in our pockets.

Here’s an example of a micro-moment: having woken up in the early hours of the morning and found yourself unable to get back to sleep, your irritation gets mixed up with a slight hunger and you develop a strong craving for a particular brand of confectionery. In years gone by, you would simply have waited for the moment to pass, and eventually gone back to sleep.

But with a phone on your bedside table, that micro-moment because actionable. Without giving it all that much thought, you unlock your phone and head to an online grocery store, planning to order some of that confectionery you’re craving. In this way, something as basic as a half- formed craving in the middle of the night can produce a fairly hefty sale — but only if you make the process seamless, as we’ll see next.

Subject to ever-present distractions

Our mobile activity is subjected to countless distractions that rarely threaten desktop or laptop activity. As I see it, there are four main reasons for this:

Mobile screens are a lot smaller . Quite obviously, a phone screen isn’t going to take up as much of your view as that of a laptop or desktop, making it harder to focus on it at the expense of whatever else is happening around you.
We can use smartphones in busy settings . Even laptops are relatively unwieldy and not well suited to being used at social gatherings or while walking down the street. Smartphones are viable just about anywhere, which opens them up to more distractions.
Touch controls make actions easier . Using a phone, you can swipe a tab away with barely a thought, so you likely do on a regular basis. It takes so little effort that you’re going to use that power unless given compelling reason not to.
Phones are inherently communicative . Even leaving aside actual cellular functionality, phones are littered with communication tools, from social media channels to chatting apps, and flush with chirping notifications.

All of these things together mean that in most circumstances we’re more demanding of the mobile content we consume. If you’re shopping for something on your smartphone and you encounter something that bothers you — maybe the delivery rate is too steep, or the product you want isn’t in stock — then you can move on in a second, whether to look for a different store or just give up on the whole idea.

For ecommerce retailers, this means striving for absolute sales funnel optimisation. Finding a way to be in the right position at the right time is great, but if all your leads drop out during the sales process, you’re clearly wasting a lot of relevant traffic. The best ecommerce stores keep things clear and simple at all times and don’t place unnecessary demands on the user.

The value of localised search intent

Another thing that sets mobile shopping apart is that it strays much more extensively into the realm of location-based searching. Indeed, while many desktop websites now have provide custom location-based recommendations, it all started with phones and their GPS functionality. If you want to find a store that sells a particular item in your area, you can simply search for something like “[store type] near me” on your iOS or Android device. Chiefly using Google My Business listings, the results will be specific to your positioning, leaving you to choose whichever one you prefer and get directions.

This rise of local search has become incredibly important for all retailers or service suppliers that maintain physical locations. If a searcher doesn’t know that your store exists, they won’t be in a position to hire you or buy from you, meaning that you’ll never even get an opportunity to convince them that you’re worth their time.

What this all means

First, let’s recap what we’ve gleaned regarding the mobile shopping experience:
Micro-moments drive our mobile activity.
Phone users are extremely capricious, and their actionable intent comes and goes very quickly. Online businesses need to be aware of this and make their content snappy, compelling and convenient to take advantage.
Retail sites need to be hyper-optimised.
This isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. You can adhere to most of the today’s standards by following guides and using automation tools (for instance, using beginner-friendly DIY store software), and the rest of it will come down to investing in extensive usability testing.
Local SEO is important for physical stores.
Searches about “here” are far more common now that we all have phones. Business listings and standardised NAP data (name, address, phone number) are invaluable additions for companies with physical locations.

While these are fairly high-level points, what they mean practically is that any business that wants to compete on mobile has to be better. It needs better content to stand out to searchers in those precious micro-moments, better UX to turn those leads into conversions, and better local SEO to ensure that super-relevant local searches aren’t overlooked.

If you’re looking to boost your online business, invest as heavily as you can in addressing these requirements — it won’t be long before you start to see the results.

Patrick Foster loves delving into the ins and outs of online commerce. He is currently heading up content at Ecommerce Tips where our mission is to demystify ecommerce and make it easy for everyone to understand. Check us out on Twitter @myecommercetips

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