Size Does Matter: Keeping Perspective on Your Mobile Shopping Experience

Ask yourself this question: Would you design and merchandise a mall kiosk the way you would a big-box store? Most people would say “no,” but that’s exactly what retailers often are doing when it comes to implementing a mobile shopping experience.  

To set the stage, let’s look at how a handful of popular retailers tackled the down economy by following their markets into airports. Retailers as diverse as Gap, H&M, Bass Pro Shop and Vera Bradley have learned the new smaller turf requires new rules. For example:

  • Rushed customers mean few dressing rooms and a focus on things that don’t need to be tried on, like accessories and shirts instead of pants and skirts;
  • Smaller stores require a focus on the popular and basic items, not a wide selection;
  • Smaller entrances mean window displays get tossed aside for wider aisles and easier access with rolling luggage; and
  • Travelers are starting to plan their shopping around trips through airports as retailer presence increases.

The airport retail experience is so different that the retailers often hire experts in airport store design and management to run these locations for them.


There are a handful of important similarities between the size challenges of designing a mobile shopping experience and an airport shopping experience:

  • The mobile experience is space-constrained. It’s obvious, but because the field of view is so small, there is much more need for scrolling, panning and clicking to find what you want. As a result, mobile shoppers view about half the number of pages as the average desktop shopper.
  • Mobile shoppers are time-constrained. On average, they spend one-third as much time on a site as desktop shoppers.
  • Mobile shoppers are task-oriented and goal-driven, so much so, in fact, that if the shopping experience isn’t designed for a mobile device, half of these shoppers believe it means the retailer doesn’t care about their business.

Now it should be easy to see why cramming the entire desktop-oriented site into a mobile experience is counter productive. Mobile experience design is truly a case of “less is more.” Like the airport experience, the mobile experience has to offer the shopper fewer options, and if they are the right options, they will make for more satisfied customers.

How do you determine what content, inventory, functionality and capabilities should make the cut?

Take Inventory

Review your existing site analytics and isolate the behavior of mobile users. This may sound obvious, but it is an often-overlooked gem.

Start with the obvious stats: bounce rates, bounce pages, favorite pages by visits, favorite pages by time, exit pages, etc. Try to picture what they are doing. Are they model hunting or bargain hunting; browsing and learning or comparing and evaluating? Where are they leaving and for what possible reasons? Throw away conventional browser-based wisdom about why these findings are the way they are. Free your mind, and imagine their story.

Talk To Customers

Talk to customers who have used your mobile experience. Use one-on-one conversations, not focus groups. Ask what they are usually trying to accomplish. It’s not always to buy something on the spot. Don’t just ask them what they want or don’t want in a mobile experience. They may not know, and may feel pressured to just tell you something. Instead, have them show you how they go about trying to accomplish their tasks and what trips them up. Then ask whether or not your mobile experience improved their perception of your brand.

Look Inward

Define very specifically what user behavior and actions you need most to help drive your company’s business strategy and goals. Obviously it starts with sales, but what kind? Initial purchases, incremental purchases and follow-on purchases, repeat purchases, purchases of specific product lines? Determine where the path ends. What about providing service, before or after the sale? Do you want them to bring others into the purchase decision or do you want them to tell others about the purchases they’ve made?

The answer is not yes, yes, yes and yes. Some of these options will align better with corporate strategy than others. Some things that customers want (or your competitors are doing) won’t align with strategy at all. In that case, why be compelled to give it to them?

Limiting the content and functionality of the mobile experience — and freeing your mind from tying it to the desktop version — allows you to develop something truly exceptional. While choosing what to eliminate is difficult, it can make your customers much more loyal and profitable in the long run.

Danny Davis is CEO of Proving Ground, an Atlanta-based digital customer experience firm that helps clients enhance customer engagement and build brand loyalty.

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