Mobile users hang up on internet retailers

Millions of people go shopping on their mobile, but most online businesses fail to meet their requirements

Millions of people go shopping on their mobile, but most online businesses fail to meet their requirements

How do you know if someone has an iPhone? Don’t worry they will tell you soon enough. Indeed, anyone with any kind of smartphone is likely to be rather public about their ownership of their favoured mobile device. The mobile world is divided between those who love and use smartphones (21% of mobile owners) and those who have an “ordinary” mobile. Most people who use mobile phones appear to want to use them for, well, er, phone calls….! There’s a surprise…!

However, six out of every ten retailers are trying to sell their products using “m-commerce” – online selling via a mobile phone. But here’s the problem – according to a new study almost all of those retailers have failed to do anything about making their online offering suitable for even a smartphone screen, let alone an “ordinary mobile”. That’s a bit like advertising your product in China in the English language – some people will be able to cope, but the vast majority will not.

The survey which showed the extent of the gap between what companies offer using “m-commerce” and what people experience is backed up by another piece of research from Brandbank which shows that only 4% of consumers find buying via a mobile phone “pain free”. In other words, almost all people using their smartphone to buy something have problems in doing so.

It seems that online retailers just don’t “get it”. They appear to think that all they have to do is have a web site for mobile phone users and that’s that. But these two studies show that most of the companies trying to sell via mobile phones have failed on two basic counts. Firstly, they have failed to take into account the difference in the technology and secondly they have failed to take into account the way in which people are using their mobiles during the purchasing process.

It is all reminiscent of the early days of online retail – in fact it is rather reminiscent of much online retail now. Businesses appear to think that all you have to do is set up a website and people will flock to it. Whoopee. With m-commerce, they seem to think the same way; just create a “mobile site” and whoopee-doo we’ll sell millions. Once again, research finds that retailers are woefully short of the mark.

Understanding your customers, what they do, how they behave and how they use technology is essential if you are to truly connect with them. Ask Tesco. They transformed their business from a company that was focused on price and competition to one that was geared to their customers, resulting in becoming the world’s third-biggest retailer. It’s nearest competitor, Sainsbury, makes it to the 529th position. Clearly, focusing on the customer relentlessly has an impact. Yet, in the m-commerce world the two studies published this week reveal that’s the last thing retailers appear to be doing.

As ever, this is a lesson that repeats the lesson of all business: understand your customers and you will do well. Fail to understand them and you won’t make as much money as you could.

Even if you don’t sell online, one in five of our website visitors are likely to enter our site via a mobile. Are you geared towards them, or ignoring them? For a simple approach go to DomainMonster and buy a “.mobi” domain. For an additional £19.99 a year their “Instant Mobilizer” product will automatically convert your website into a mobile phone version. It may not be the best answer to “mobilizing” your website, but it is an excellent start. (If you want to look at my site on your mobile, visit

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