Ecommerce on the go - selling through the mobile

by Trenton Moss on 1 December 2008

Since we last wrote about the usability of mobile websites, the rise of the iPhone and other high-end handsets has meant that even more people use the Internet on their phone. (Source: Nielsen Mobile/BBC). Companies have responded by creating more mobile-optimised websites, some of which now allow people to complete ecommerce transactions on the mobile, instead of simply researching for information. For example:

However, while many people are already comfortable making online purchases using a computer, doing the same through a mobile phone poses unique challenges. These challenges need to be addressed by mobile ecommerce sites. This article provides best practice guidelines for removing potential barriers between your customers and your mobile ecommerce site.

Help people find your mobile site

Having a mobile-optimised site is no use if your customers can't find it. You should always detect when visitors are accessing your site through a mobile phone, and automatically redirect them to the mobile-optimised version of the site.

Although you may also advertise the link to your mobile site, people may still remember the link to your main site only, or may arrive on your main site through a search engine link.

Travelodge, unlike Amazon, doesn't redirect mobile visitors to their mobile site by default, which may lead visitors into thinking that a mobile version isn't available

Ensure that the link to your mobile site is easy to remember and type into a mobile phone. For example:

  • Append the word 'mobile' to your main domain (e.g.
  • Use a .mobi domain with your brand name (e.g.

Cater for dropped internet connections

Mobile internet connections can often be unstable, e.g. when a mobile phone moves into a low signal area or runs out of battery. It's usually not a big issue if this happens while someone is simply consuming information e.g. reading the news. However, a dropped connection in the middle of a transaction may leave people wondering if the transaction has been completed or frustrated that the information they've entered so far was lost.

While there's not much you can do to improve mobile network coverage, you can mitigate the effects of dropped connections by:

  • Saving all details in every step of a transaction e.g. the items in a shopping basket or the shipping details already entered
  • Ensuring that a transaction can be resumed from the point where it was left, without having to start over
  • Capturing visitors' e-mail addresses or mobile phones at the beginning of a transaction and sending them instructions to help them continue an interrupted transaction
  • Ensuring that all transactions available on your mobile site can be completed in a few short steps

Swiftcover mobile customers can only get a quote e-mailed to them and need to purchase insurance using their computer. This is a good idea, as buying insurance may require reviewing complex information which is best done on a computer

The shopping basket on the Amazon mobile site doesn't get reset if a shopper visits the site again after a dropped connection

Avoid data entry where possible

Although high-end smartphones increasingly incorporate a full physical or on-screen keyboard, typing on a mobile phone still isn't as easy as on a computer. Unfortunately, completing an ecommerce transaction often requires a lot of information that isn't always easy to type, such as addresses and credit card numbers.

In order to decrease the chances that customers will drop off at this point, you can mimimise data entryby:

  • Allowing customers to log-in with the same username and password that they use for your main website in order to retrieving shipping and billing information stored in their account
  • Encouraging customers to create an account to speed up future transactions
  • Integrating with 3rd party billing services for which customers need to enter only a username & password e.g. PayPal

Customers with an Amazon account can use the same account for their mobile transactions

SeeTickets customers need to pre-register their shipping & billing information before they use the mobile website, which means they won't need to re-enter this information on their mobile

Reassure users about transaction security

With frequent reports on the news about credit card fraud and identity theft, most shoppers are looking to be reassured that their online transaction will be secure. While most desktop web browsers prominently highlight secure websites and protect users from visiting fraudulent sites, many mobile browsers are primitive in that respect. Also, because there are many mobile phones with different web browsers, people haven't yet become accustomed to a certain way of highlighting that a website is secure.

Internet Explorer users can get detailed information about a secure site, while the iPhone web browser only shows a small 'padlock' icon

It's a good idea to prominently highlight that your mobile site is secure on the homepage and on pages that ask for sensitive information. Customers may also feel more comfortable if they don't need to enter any sensitive information because it's already stored in their account, as discussed in the previous point.

Think mobile for the post-transaction stage

Interacting with your customers doesn't stop when they complete a transaction. A good mobile user experience should extend well into the post-transaction phase, e.g. when customers need to track the goods they ordered or check a booking confirmation. After all, if your customers have chosen to complete a transaction using a mobile phone, they'll likely appreciate following up on this transaction in the same way.

Depending on the nature of the transaction, the following guidelines may apply:

  • When customers can buy physical goods through your mobile site, provide a mobile solution for tracking the progress of the order and the delivery of the goods.
  • When customers can book tickets or other services through your site, provide a mobile-friendly booking confirmation e-mail and consider mobile ticketing solutions, where tickets can be electronically stored in a mobile phone in the form of a special barcode
  • In any case, ensure that all e-mails following up on a transaction are mobile-friendly

Amazon customers can also track their orders through the Amazon mobile website


With increasing mobile internet use, it won't be long before your customers will expect to transact with you over their mobile phone. This will take more than simply “downscaling” your existing website to fit in a mobile screen. Only if you carefully consider the unique challenges and opportunities offered through the mobile channel will you be able to offer your customers a truly mobile user experience.

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