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Why are most mcommerce sites cookie-cutter?

The mobile commerce space has evolved over the past few years. Therefore, marketers must learn to differentiate themselves and stay ahead of competition.

“To some degree, yes, many mobile sites out there are cookie cutter,” said Nikki Baird, managing partner at RSR Research, Miami.

“I think the primary cause is caution, as retailers try to figure out the primary use cases that drive customers to use the mobile site,” she said.

“Some early learnings, like really easy to navigate menu options and a lot of facets to guide browsing, along with a lack of image-heavy pages, at least until the final product choice, have had the unintended effect of making all the sites look the same.”

Look alike
Nowadays, almost all the mobile sites out there include the same features such as search functionality, social media integration, a customer service call-to-action and the ability for consumers to shop by different categories.

Similarly, all mobile sites feature the retailer’s logo on the top of the screen and either an image below that promotes an ongoing sale or a carousal that flips through.

“Mobilization was often a hurried add-on in response to unanticipated and rapidly growing, mobile device contact with traditional commerce sites and brands,” said Stephen Burke, vice president of mobile at Resource, Columbus, OH.

“To cope, brands turned to a small number of vendors who adopted the tab list format as an expeditious way of shoehorning content onto a mobile phone form factor,” he said.

“These vendors were adept at solving for the grid of pain associated with myriad devices, form factors, operating systems and text input methods, but sacrificed brand-specific functionality and engagement.”

Differentiate yourself
Marketers need to differentiate themselves from competitors.

According to Mr. Burke, many marketers live in a “two OS” world until Windows and Nokia will make some headway into the Apple- and Android-dominated marketplace.

“Retailers need to recognize that over the next 18-24 months, a consumer’s primary engagement with them will shift to smartphones and tablets and thus need to revisit their mobile experiences to take advantage of fast networks, larger screens and location-aware technologies,” Mr. Burke said.

“Net-A-Porter and Sephora have done excellent jobs creating engaging, unique mobile commerce destinations that maintain each brand’s flair, while delivering a streamlined, highly navigable path to purchase,” he said.

Not all the same
Lauren Freedman, president of the E-Tailing Group, Chicago, believes that at this point, not all mobile site are the same.

“For so many merchants, they are still in phase one of their mobile experiences,” Ms. Freedman said.

“For the more sophisticated, they’ve pulled ahead and are moving beyond the basics to incorporate category-centric options and are more savvy to the real needs of the mobile shopper,” she said.

The industry is continuing to grow at a rapid speed and marketers need to first understand who their target demographic is and roll out a mobile-optimized experience to not only engage their consumers, but increase sales as well.

“There will be a better integration at the shelf – for store-based retailers in particular there is a lot of incentive to battle against showrooming by creating a mobile experience that encourages customers to forget all about price checking,” RSR Research’s Ms. Baird said.

“And actually, as interactivity at the shelf – like through a QR code or some kind of camera-based scan or augmented reality experience – drives people directly to the most relevant content, we may find that it creates a natural divergence in how the mobile site looks because there will be more opportunity to use the site for content instead of devoting that real estate to navigation.”

Mobile evolution
While we are still somewhat in the infancy stages of mcommerce, the concern over the scaled back similarity of sites is a very real one for brands and consumers alike.

The standard list format design has been the hallmark of the screen scraping solution providers, with its generic navigational flow and emphasis on a uniform mobile viewing experience, per Scott Forshay, strategist of mobile and emerging technologies at Acquity Group.

“Given not only the continued maturation of the mobile market, but the increased savvy of the mobile consumer, brands are now looking to differentiate themselves and present  mobile experiences more in keeping with their particular aesthetic and brand design principles,” Mr. Forshay said.

“Existing mcommerce 1.0 sites were often a byproduct of decisions made under a certain degree of duress,” he said. “If a CEO couldn’t view their brand’s site on their Blackberry, that was a real concern that needed to be addressed as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.

“In that early stage market environment, where budgets and resources were extremely limited for what were considered almost skunkworks projects, a screen scraping solution most often represented the path of least resistance for getting into market. Unfortunately, that format became the early blueprint for mobile sites and was representative of the limitation-based mobile design mindset that is still with us today.”

The mobile device, although it shares the same infrastructure, is a fundamentally different medium than the big browser.

There are concepts and functions unique to the device that have no correlatives in a big browser digital environment.

The biggest mistakes committed in the early stages of mobile design and development were based on the philosophy that mobile is simply a pared down representation of the big browser on a smaller form factor.

New design paradigms specific to mobile are beginning to emerge, with emphasis given to designing for what makes the device unique and powerful as opposed to models that reinforced limitations.

“When designing a best-in-class mobile site, a shift in mindset is required,” Mr. Forshay said. “We are beyond the stage where we focus strictly on the technology.

“User experience design is of paramount importance, as experience is not a product of technology, it is a product of emotion,” he said. “We must begin to design with consumer use cases specific to the medium at the forefront of consideration.

“Traditional Web design principles don’t apply for targets that are not stationary. Certainly the majority of time that consumers engage with their device is in a rest state, but how do we most effectively solve for those instances when the target is in motion? Mobile, at its essence, is a transitional medium.”

Consumers have begun to expect innovation and creative execution from the brands they associate themselves with.

The increased loyalty that comes with providing a contextually relevant experience is a true game changer for brands if executed properly.

“Mobile will continue to take on exponential importance in a brand’s overall marketing mix,” Mr. Forshay said. “The most dangerous metric for determining success or failure, however, is focus solely on transactions conducted on the device.

“The influential power of the device throughout the consumer experience, from providing just in time product research capabilities to driving consumer traffic into stores with positive purchase intent, is too great to be relegated to second screen status,” he said. “The device is the persistent interface.

“It is action-oriented and actionable. The smart devices we carry in our pockets and purses have become very natural extensions of our human selves. They know who we are, where we are, who we are connected to, what our schedule for the day looks like, and what time it is. As such, savvy marketers will continue to prioritize mobility as the primary communications vehicle between their brands and their consumer base.”