As mobile investments assume primary importance in the omnichannel shopping experience, merchants must balance building rich experiences with rising consumer expectations for mobile site speed. Prioritizing which programming and design techniques will achieve the greatest benefits for the widest audience is the first step toward successful implementations in 2021.
Merchants needn’t look far to find the latest evidence of mobile’s swift and increasing dominance of the shopping experience. Some 59% of shoppers say they’re planning to make a purchase on a mobile device at some point during the current holiday season — a jump of more than 37% from just a year ago, according to Deloitte’s 2017 holiday study.
In response to consumers’ increasing mobile usage, Google has shifted its algorithm to favor sites that are optimized for mobile. A 2015 change dubbed “Mobilegeddon” began prioritizing mobile-friendly results, and the ultimate goal of a mobile-first index that assigns rank primarily based on mobile site performance and content could arrive as early as 2018.
For merchants striving to keep up with both consumer expectations and search engine algorithms, it’s been a breakneck series of developments, accompanied by a wave of innovations. Among them:
RWD and PWA for rich mobile experiences
Responsive Web Design (RWD), a technique which optimizes sites on the fly to render legibly across devices, helps merchants meet consumers’ expectations for rich mobile experiences that are consistent with desktop versions. By and large, merchants have moved away from maintaining separate mobile and desktop sites in favor of RWD: more than 50% of eCommerce sites are now responsive, compared with just under 18% using separate mobile URLs, according to Smashing Magazine.
A still more recent toolset, collectively known as Progressive Web Apps (PWA), enable delivery of features such as push notifications and offline browsing within the mobile web site, rather than in separate downloadable apps. And because PWAs can make use of cached content, they can boost speed. While adoption of PWAs is still far from widespread, early metrics are encouraging, with some sites reporting 50% higher conversions via PWAs versus standard mobile Web sites.
AMP for speed
As consumers increasingly use mobile sites, expectations for speed are on the rise. The oft-cited statistic that shoppers abandon sites taking longer than 3 seconds to load is only part of the story. Fresh data from Google found that abandonment probability rises swiftly even within that relatively short timeframe: if page load speed increases from 1 to 3 seconds, the likelihood of abandonment increases by 32%.
To meet consumers’ expectations for mobile site speed, Google has backed the development of Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP for short. The open standard enables developers to publish stripped-down versions of pages and even have them cached on Google’s servers for lightning-fast delivery. Sites conforming to AMP code standards are now badged in search results; given that page load speed has been a ranking factor for years, the imminent switch to mobile-first indexing may give AMP-optimized sites an SEO edge.
Facebook offers its own version of accelerated pages, called Instant Articles, but so far adoption is low, at just 2% of sites, according to Smashing Magazine. By comparison, close to 1 in 10 Web sites now offer AMP versions, including a growing contingent of retailers that includes eBay.
Getting it right for 2021
The wide array of options for mobile investments may leave merchants struggling to prioritize projects heading into the new year. But they can achieve success if they:
- Invest in sound code. Whichever technique merchants adopt is more likely to succeed if they possess the expertise to implement it correctly. Early instances of responsive sites featured bloated code that slowed site speed; newer PWAs rely on sound caching architecture to maintain speed and functionality.
- Keep the focus on swift task completion. Shoppers who turn to mobile devices likely have a goal in mind rather than a desire to browse aimlessly. In Deloitte’s holiday study, for example, tasks such as checking order status, comparing prices, and finding store locations were among the top five shopping functions for mobile shoppers. Merchants should focus mobile investments on tools that make such functions efficient and fast.
With those precepts in mind, we recommend that merchants:
Continue investment in RWD.
A unified code base continues to offer merchants the most streamlined means to deliver rich, consistent experiences across devices. Kibo’s industry-leading eCommerce platform is designed with mobile in mind and integrates responsive design throughout merchant sites.
Prioritize focused experiments with PWAs over native apps.PWAs that help shoppers complete key tasks within the mobile Web environment have the potential to demonstrate customer-friendly efficiency to the widest possible audience. PWA features such as push alerts have the potential to drive significant engagement via mobile devices, while offline browsing enables shoppers to have a seamless experience on the go even when connectivity is spotty.
By contrast, merchants should recognize that only a subset of brand loyalists are likely to download and routinely use native apps; while mobile consumers report using an average of 25 apps monthly, fully 77% of time spent is devoted to their top three apps, according to measurement firm comScore. And with social, messaging, and search apps dominating the top 10 in app penetration, merchants can’t count on significant usage of their app offerings.
Wait and watch AMP developments closely.
While the prospect of lightning-fast load times is enticing, AMP has generated a fair amount of skepticism. The AMP standards require a stripped-down version of pages; while it’s possible to integrate simple versions of features such as customer reviews and product recommendations, AMP requires a different set of code than for the regular mobile Web site or desktop site. So to embark on AMP, merchants must return to maintaining two versions of their Web offerings. Furthermore, tracking usage of AMP pages is complicated by Google’s AMP caching service. In effect, AMP-optimized pages act as teaser content akin to a search ad, with trackable user activity only kicking in once shoppers transition onto the merchant site.
For now, merchants can work to satisfy shoppers’ need for mobile speed with a focus on sound RWD and PWA development. But with the rollout of Google’s mobile-first index, they should stay abreast of how AMP will affect organic page rank, and act accordingly.
How are you prioritizing mobile investments for 2021 and beyond?