The articles and studies illustrating user frustration with mobile apps are everywhere. For anyone still questioning whether that is true for mobile shopping, I point to an Accenture report earlier this year that said, “Consumers remain bullish on the in-store shopping experience: almost all survey participants (94 percent) found in-store shopping easy. They are less bullish, however, about their experience with other shopping channels: 74 percent said online shopping is easy, but only one-quarter (26 percent) found the mobile phone shopping experience easy.” (From Accenture Seamless Retail Study, April 2013).

When only a 26% of consumers think that mobile shopping is easy, then we have a problem. A big problem.

What are the key issues?

Shoppers are frustrated by mobile apps. Yes, some of the problems are in security and trust issues, payment and processing problems, bandwidth, app and page loading, etc., but the major contributor to the user experience is the user interface (UI). Econsultancy, in association with IBM Tealeaf, surveyed brands to see the most serious issues for customer mobile interaction. The top 3 issues for 2013 were bad navigation / poor “findability”, screen-size issues, and form-filling problems. (from “Reducing Customer Struggle 2013″, Econsultancy, June 2013).

And why are these issues on mobile?

Let’s probe deeper. Why is navigation/findability, screen size and form filling much more of a problem on mobile devices?

Mobile devices and their uses are different than the desktop PC. To a software developer changed with porting desktop shopping to mobile, the tendency is to determine the limitations of the mobile devices and mitigate those deficiencies. A more enlightened approach takes a full view of mobile, its additional features and different use cases as well as the limitations.

Limitations of mobile devices

  • Smaller display area has no room for faceted search bar and lots of product images.
  • Lower bandwidth (if not wifi) result in slower loads and can’t scroll through hundreds of products.
  • Small, pop-up keyboards make text input slow and difficult.
  • Mobile device operating systems and browsers are less capable than desktop versions.

Features to take advantage of and go beyond the desktop

  • Mobile device is personal to the individual user.
  • Knows its location.
  • Camera capable of barcode scanning, etc.
  • And it is designed for voice interaction.

Just different on mobile than online, including use cases

  • Mobile device users may be actually mobile — walking, driving, on the go!
  • “Second screen” used while watching television
  • Mobile device used in-store

The current online desktop shopping paradigm took over a decade to evolve to what it is today. Mobile shopping is just beginning its evolution.

In the next part, I will explore how current approaches are often not optimal for mobile use and propose alternatives that would change the user experience.