Mobile Apps Will Define Future of e-Commerce - Can Retailers Solve Mobile Challenges?
October 21, 2020

James Brear

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For years now, online retail has been steadily growing while brick and mortar retail has gradually shrunk. The global pandemic and its accompanying lockdown have significantly sped up this process in 2020 and will continue to do so through 2021. But within the larger macro trend of growing e-commerce, a smaller trend is also taking shape: the growth of mobile commerce over traditional PC-based e-commerce.

A study by App Annie forecasts Q4 2020 to bring in the most mobile shopping ever in the US, with over one billion hours being spent on Android devices alone. That's a 50% increase from Q4 2019.

Mobile commerce offers several benefits for retailers. For one, it allows them to provide customers a more personalized and engaging experience that traditional PC-based e-commerce. This sort of customization is a holy grail for e-commerce players, who understand that greater personalization improves conversation rates and revenue.

In addition, mobile commerce apps are more readily accessible to consumers than traditional e-commerce platforms: People have their smartphones with them 24/7 today. They don't always have a laptop handy. With mobile commerce, customers always have the opportunity to jump on the app to browse or make a purchase, leading to more sales opportunities.

But all this potential can only be fully realized if retailers can manage the associated challenges that mobile commerce introduces. Anyone involved in the development, operation or troubleshooting of a mobile shopping app needs to be aware of the three following technical obstacles and plan accordingly.

1. Cellular networks slow speeds

To begin, mobile commerce apps are often slower than PC-based e-commerce platforms. Speed is critical to any type of online shopping experience — whether done on smartphones or laptops — as slower speeds have long been proven to hurt conversation rate and revenue.

What causes the lag for mobile apps? One reason is simple: cellular networks today tend to be slower than WiFi networks. Of course, smartphones can connect to WiFi networks at home or at the office, but outside of that, they must rely on cellular data.

5G promises to accelerate cellular network speeds, but 5G's rollout has been slow and there's no telling when it will be widely available for most consumers.

2. Dynamic content causes further lags

The other cause for lagging speeds is increasing dynamic content. Both mobile commerce apps and PC-based e-commerce platforms are using increasingly dynamic content (such as video) over static content (such as text and images) to enrich the online shopping experience. Mobile apps have a harder time supporting this dynamic content, particularly video, than PC-based e-commerce platforms. Mobile APIs aren't as robust as desktop APIs, causing videos to crash or buffer more.

In addition, smartphones don't have near the processing power of laptops, making it even harder to support this highly dynamic content.

3. Last mile issues abound

Aside from speed, mobile commerce faces serious last mile problems. The last mile describes the final part of a shopper's transaction, such as when they're entering payment information and confirming their purchase. Mobile commerce apps are plagued by increased packet drops and other last mile problems, which can cause a customer to leave without completing their transaction.

Moving ahead with mobile commerce

Consumers will expect the same speed and reliability from mobile commerce apps as they do from PC-based e-commerce platforms. To meet these expectations and enjoy the benefits of increasing mobile commerce, companies need to recognize the challenges these apps introduce and develop a plan to overcome them. Mobile shopping is only going to keep growing, and the retailers who put the right resources into solving these issues will reap the greatest reward.

James Brear is CEO of Zycada
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