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How to mobile-optimize retail sites for on-the-go shoppers

Retailers that fail to optimize their mobile Web site risk leaving a growing customer segment behind. Here are some best practices for mobile-optimizing the shopping experience for customers.

Mobile Commerce Daily’s Giselle Tsirulnik interviewed Matt Poepsel, vice president of performance strategies at Gomez, Lexington, MA. Mr. Poepsel talked about the importance of mobile-optimizing a retail Web site and some of the challenges of doing so.

Here is what he had to say:

Can you provide a list of best practices for optimizing the mobile Web performance of a site?
The following best practices can help retailers maximize mobile Web performance and investments in mobile initiatives, including mobile Web sites, applications and SMS services:

1. Bring all stakeholders into the Quality of Experience process – All individuals with a stake in customers’ mobile Web experiences should have a clear understanding of existing performance levels versus expected performance.

This can foster better productivity and communication among cross-functional teams such as IT and ebusiness/mbusiness. 

2. Share common experience management technologies, metrics and best practices across your mobile Web and PC Web initiatives – By applying tools and established best practices from the PC Web to the mobile Web, retailers can achieve a more unified approach to both Web and mobile performance management.

As a result, businesses can fuel greater efficiencies and cost savings and leverage existing expertise.

3. Establish a baseline for historical analysis and benchmark yourself against the competition –You need to track how well you are satisfying customers’ high expectations of the mobile Web, and compare your performance to that of your peers. 

4. Test and monitor from your customers’ perspectives – Any effort to optimize mobile Web performance must begin with a true understanding of how your customers are accessing your mobile content and from where. 

Monitor how their experiences vary in different geographies, and with different ISPs, carriers, content delivery networks, browsers and devices.

5. Test across the entire Web application delivery chain – Like the PC Web, mobile Web sites and applications have grown increasingly complex over the past several years, incorporating numerous third-party services (for example, mobile advertising providers and mobile analytics) from beyond the firewall.

Poor performance anywhere in this chain can degrade performance of an entire mobile Web application, and this will reflect poorly on you. 

For this reason, retailers need to drill-down to understand the performance of all the individual touch-points making up the whole of their customers’ mobile Web experiences, and validate third-party service-level agreements.

6. Test and monitor at a frequency to ensure you can resolve issues before customers are impacted  Retailers should test their mobile Web sites and applications not only before deployment, but also afterwards (and frequently) in order to pinpoint and resolve issues quickly – before they impact customers – and drive continuous optimizations. 

What can retailers do to optimize Web performance for mobile shoppers?
Businesses can leverage the same performance management tools they’ve leveraged for the PC Web, and fortunately, these solutions are available in a SaaS model, which makes them accessible, affordable and easy-to-use. 

Armed with the insight these tools provide, retailers can proactively identify specific user segments that may be experiencing slower mobile response times or poorer availability rates, and implement strategies to improve them.

Can you think of a retail mobile site that really nailed it?
While companies that have traditionally performed the best in the mobile Web continued to do so during the holiday season (QVC, Overstock and Amazon, for example), recent mobile performance data shows that many retailers still have a ways to go to ensure their customers’ mobile Web experiences can come near to or match those of the traditional fixed Web. 

For example, the leading retailers’ fixed Web sites delivered an average response time of 2.18 seconds this holiday season – proof that retailers are investing heavily in making sure their Web sites perform, even under the heaviest traffic loads. 

In contrast, the average response time of retailers’ mobile Web sites exceeded 3.6 seconds – which is a problem, considering Forrester Consulting’s recent finding that two seconds is the new threshold customers are willing to wait before growing frustrated, abandoning a site and going to a competitor. 

Also consider the fact that mobile Web sites are often significantly less feature-rich than PC Web sites – which, it would stand to reason, should make them faster.

What are the challenges of mobile Web optimization? 
The sheer volume of usage scenarios requiring performance testing (for example, an Android user on T-Mobile in Seattle; a BlackBerry user on Verizon in Chicago) presents a particularly daunting challenge.

Retailers need to know what performance is like for different applications, from different browsers, devices and networks, and different geographies. This represents a potentially huge drain on resources and time-to-market for revenue generating applications and services. 

How can these challenges be addressed? 
Today, comprehensive testing networks include thousands of device profiles and can offer retailers a quick and easy view into mobile customer experiences. 

Armed with this knowledge, retailers can understand which mobile customer segments may be experiencing a performance issue; and then proactively identify, isolate and fix a wide range of performance-impacting variables.