by Sharon Goldman

How checkout woes sabotage mobile commerce

Aug 26, 2016
Consumer ElectronicsE-commerce SoftwareMobile

Mobile commerce has a lot of potential, but some improvements to the checkout process are needed and can likely make or break its success.

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Credit: Thinkstock

Mobile commerce shows no signs of slowing its furious pace of growth, as consumers get comfortable using their smartphones and tablets to shop anytime and anywhere they want: In a report titled “U.S. Mobile Phone and Tablet Commerce Forecast, 2015 to 2020,” Forrester Research estimates that mobile commerce sales will reach $142 billion this year, up from $115 billion last year.

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Retailers haven’t necessarily been doing high-fives in response, though — that’s because the Forrester report also found that while almost one-third of merchants’ online traffic originates on mobile devices only 11 percent of actual sales are completed via the mobile channel. The thing is, while people spend time browsing, researching products and even starting the purchase process online, actually placing an order on a phone can be a tough task. Anyone who has squinted while hunting for a shopping cart on a tiny screen knows mobile checkout can be a huge pain — so it may come as no surprise that experts say it’s the most likely place for frustrated customers to abandon ship.

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“The mobile checkout process has not been easy, intuitive or predictable to date,” says Mario Vollbracht, managing director of retail strategies for Alsbridge, an advisory firm that helps clients find sources for IT services. The common challenge, he explains, is usability — shoppers may, for example, be required to sign up or click through a long series of screens. And, of course, entering a promotion code on a mobile device can be like threading a needle.

In a recent research article titled “The State of Mobile Checkout & Form Usability,” the Baymard Institute describes the average checkout process experience as “seriously flawed” — in many cases, the problems are so severe that users don’t complete their orders. According to the report, the biggest issues include “presentation of and interaction with total order cost, shipping options and account features,” as well as “form redundancy, lack of field descriptions and deficient error messages.”

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How to improve the mobile checkout process

So, how can retailers improve the mobile checkout experience? E-commerce pioneer Stephan Schambach says that the mobile retail model needs to be reinvented from the ground up.

“The online shopping cart is dying a gradual death,” says Schambach, the founder of Demandware and current CEO of NewStore, a provider of a mobile retail platform. “Between constant registrations and passwords, there’s nothing convenient about it.” He says that 60 to 70 percent of purchases are of single items, and shopping carts shouldn’t be necessary for such small transactions.

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Instead, he says, the holy grail of mobile checkout would be a native mobile app equipped with direct payment options such as Apple Pay or Samsung Pay, which have billing and shipping information stored in them. “Eventually, the mobile commerce experience will be an app-centric approach,” he says.

Other experts, however, maintain that retailers should focus on browser-based systems, because they attract a wider audience than apps do. According to February’s Mobile Checkout Report from BI Intelligence, people spend most of their mobile shopping time in browsers, not apps. The report also found that mobile wallets such as Apple Pay and Android Pay could still boost mobile commerce within browsers.

The size of a retailer’s customer base plays a big role in determining whether an app or the mobile web model is the best choice, says Natalie Belanger,vice president of customer engagement solutions at Aptos, a provider of retail technology solutions. “If you are a retailer with high volume and high frequency, it’s easier to justify building a mobile app that consumers will download,” she says. “But, if you are retailer of specialty apparel and the average customer buys with you once or twice a year, it’s less likely they’ll be willing to download your app.”

Getting mobile checkout right

Clearly, some companies are getting mobile checkout right: Forrester estimates that Amazon and eBay capture about one-third of all shopping done on mobile devices in the U.S. And Alsbridge’s Vollbracht says retailers such as Staples, H&M and have top-notch mobile checkout options. “In all these cases, you will see that less is more as far as what gets presented to the customer checking out,” he says.

Brick-and-mortar stores are doing mobile checkout well, too, says Vollbracht, citing the Apple Store and Sephora as examples. “The Apple mobile experience, combined with in-store checkout with Apple Pay is a trailblazer,” he says. Meanwhile, Sephora’s Flash subscription option enables in-store shoppers to use their phones to select items that they can’t find on the shelves and then combine all of the goods — both those they have in hand, and those chosen online — into one purchase during the checkout process.