Building a better mobile web experience

Consumers expect mobile and desktop sites to do the same things but new research finds 96% have been unable to complete tasks on a portable device, with western consumers less likely than Chinese to recommend brands on the strength of their mobile websites.

Retailers in China can make 40% of sales on mobile, but western economies need to catch up

Game of Thrones fans are a passionate group, so when things go wrong with their viewing experience it usually causes a stir. HBO, the TV network behind the programme, encountered fans’ wrath earlier this year when its online streaming service crashed under the volume of American viewers trying to log in to watch the season four premiere of the hit fantasy show. Social media outrage naturally followed.

Launched in 2010 as a rival to the likes of Netflix and Amazon, the HBO Go service caters for the increasing number of people who want to watch content via portable devices. However, the sheer popularity of HBO programmes has caused glitches to appear in the system: just a few weeks prior to the Game of Thrones problem, HBO Go went down during the final episode of crime drama True Detective.

Mobile challenges

Matching user experience with the demand for mobile content is an increasingly pressing challenge for brands. According to research seen exclusively by Marketing Week, 96% of people have been unable to complete what they wanted to do on their mobile device at some point. The People’s Web 2014 report by mobile web analytics firm Netbiscuits also shows that 91% of people have switched to a competitor mobile site as a result of the original choice being too slow or difficult to use.

Faced with these technological challenges, many brands are investing in their mobile strategies in a bid to stay ahead of the curve. Earlier this month, broadcaster Sky agreed a deal with cloud testing company Soasta to improve the reliability and performance of its on-demand services such as Sky Go and Now TV. The idea is to ultimately avoid the same problems encountered by HBO Go.

“If we are to deliver the experience our customers rightly expect from us, we have to ensure we can handle traffic from hundreds of thousands of concurrent users,” says Sam Murray, head of testing at Sky.

The Netbiscuits study, which polled 6,000 consumers in six countries, reveals a variety of reasons for people’s dissatisfaction with mobile websites. Ninety-five per cent of people agree that it is often too difficult to find what they are looking for compared to a desktop site, while other complaints relate to the speed of mobile websites and the difficulty of entering information via the ‘pinch and zoom’ facility used by some sites.

Duncan Clark, head of global research at Netbiscuits, claims that many brands mistakenly regard their mobile website as “a cut-down version” of their desktop site. “That’s absolutely not the case because even though people may navigate through a mobile website in a different way, they want to do exactly the same things that they can do on a PC website – and they expect that to be delivered,” he says.

“If we are to deliver the experience our customers rightly expect from us, we have to ensure we can handle traffic from hundreds of thousands of concurrent users”

Sam Murray, Sky

Young people are particularly impatient about using faulty mobile sites – one-third of people aged 18 to 24 confirm that they often or very often give up and use a competitor instead. This compares with just one in 10 people aged 65 and over. The type of handset used also has a clear bearing on people’s experience of mobile sites, with 40% of BlackBerry users claiming that sites are often incorrectly displayed or not optimised versus 31% for Apple.

Smartphone makers are waking up to the need for more advanced mobile web experiences. The 5.5 inch screen of Apple’s new iPhone 6 Plus, the larger variant of the iPhone 6, offers consumers a greater choice in how they interact with media. Although brands such as Samsung and Nokia have offered larger versions of their phones for some time, Apple’s launch provides proof that mobile consumption habits are changing and marketers need to adapt.

Clark suggests that brands operating overseas must also develop their understanding of how different nationalities use mobile devices. “The countries that are more likely to use mobile as their primary way of accessing the internet as opposed to the desktop are a lot more demanding than in some of the European markets,” he says.

According to the research, 95% of Chinese consumers and 91% of Brazilian consumers would recommend a brand based on the mobile web experience, versus 67% in the UK. Consumers from emerging economies are also more likely to share their location in order to enjoy additional services from brands and are happier for mobile websites to store their information.

UK retailer Topshop sought to take advantage of this mobile-centric culture when it launched a partnership with Chinese online retailer ShangPin earlier this month. Held at The Place, one of Beijing’s largest malls, more than 5,000 shoppers took part in a two-day ‘mobile adventure’ event. This involved virtually trying on and purchasing fashion items via QR codes, posing for photos and sharing the content across China’s social media platforms. Mobile already accounts for 40% of ShangPin’s sales.

“For China’s young consumers, who were born in the Eighties and Nineties and spend up to 30% of their day online or on mobile, it was only fitting that we [should introduce Topshop to them] through a bold experience that seamlessly merged the physical and virtual worlds,” explains David Zhao, chief executive of ShangPin. “This is how we live in China today.”


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