Retail may be one of the most dynamic and innovative industries, but when it comes to mobile, far too many are missing the point. Mobile traffic now dominates online activity, yet low mobile conversion rates have historically led mid-market retailers to downplay the importance of the mobile channel, according to Jim Rudall from MoPowered, who here reveals how too many retailers are simply opting for a quick fix responsive design that's anything but 'mobile friendly'. This article is copyright 2014 The Best Customer Guide.

Slow loading pages, unmanageable navigation, and tortuous check-out processes, are resulting in bounce rates often in excess of 80%. Retailers are not only missing out on sales but creating an appalling first impression in what has rapidly become the dominant route to market, effectively closing the door to the mobile sales channel.

Mobile Domination?
Mobile commerce (m-commerce) is not about simply making e-commerce mobile; a mobile commerce first strategy is now a retail imperative. Mobile traffic now dominates for the majority of retailers - as evidenced by companies such as John Lewis who reported in January of this year that upwards of 70% of their online Christmas visitors arrived via a mobile device.

So why do a vast number of retailers not see mobile commerce as a priority? Yes, mobile conversion rates are low compared to desktop - but that misses the point. If the vast majority of customers' first interaction with a brand is via mobile, then a retailer must create the best possible mobile experience - or risk losing business, for good.

Yet those mid-market retailers who have opted for a quick fix responsive design approach are experiencing bounce rates leaping often to over 70%. Sites deliver incredibly slow page loads combined with complex navigation processes, which are the antithesis of an experience which follows mobile commerce best practice.

While web developers have virtually unanimously embraced responsive for all mobile related development, the reality is that while this model works well for representing content in a mobile form factor, it has some serious flaws when it comes to a successful m-commerce experience.

The Mobile Customer Journey
The issue is not simply resizing content; responsive design generally demands the entire desktop site content has to be processed on the smartphone, including images and complex web technologies such as JavaScript. However powerful the latest generation of smartphones and data networks, this is simply too much to ask. No wonder a home page can take upwards of ten seconds to load.

And, with independent research studies from the likes of Forrester, Gartner, and Compuware asserting that customers will accept no longer than three seconds to load a page, and organisations like Amazon saying that any drop in page load speed has a huge impact on conversion rates, it is no surprise that bounce rates go through the roof.

In fact the problems go far beyond slow page loading. The mobile customer's journey from browse to checkout is fundamentally different to the desktop customer journey. The mobile shopping experience is often more about task driven "shopping with intent" than a long, engaged brand experience; it is about a short, sharp, efficient browse to purchase experience - and the mobile site should reflect that difference through every aspect of the navigation right through to a simplified check-out process.

The Retail Innovators
So why is that not happening? Why are so many web developers still committed to responsive design despite its clear limitations when it comes to m-commerce - especially when this attitude flies in the face of the approaches being adopted by the most successful retailers?

Take a look at retailers offering the top rated mobile experience, such as House of Fraser, and the majority have been developed for purpose to reflect the specific needs of not only the mobile device but, just as critically, the mobile customer journey. (The remainder, by the way, are highly expensive, highly engineered responsive design solutions that are a world away from the quick fix models adopted by many web developers.)

Clearly this m-commerce-first model is an approach that needs to be rapidly adopted by the rest of the retail community - but where can a CEO turn if the web development team is still determined to pursue the responsive approach?

The SaaS Model
In a market where desktop still dominates revenue for the majority of retailers - even if traffic is predominantly mobile - it is tough to assess just how investment should be allocated to the mobile site.

CEOs are also justifiably concerned about the impact on sales of diverting resources from the established desktop environment. So don't. Keep the established web development team focused on its core skill set and leverage a proven Software as a Service (SaaS) m-commerce model to deliver a highly tailored mobile experience.

This approach not only minimises up-front investment but also leverages the relevant aspects of the desktop development - such as product, category and pricing information, branding and style - to automatically populate the customised mobile store. With the pay as you go model, the cost is directly proportional to consumers' mobile activity, meaning the investment reflects exact business requirements. Critically, the results are impressive, making the ROI compelling.

Within a matter of weeks, retailers can see mobile conversion rates rising from the typical 0.5% associated with a non-optimised mobile site, toward 2%. While this is still below the average 3% desktop conversion rates, the interesting fact is that radically improving the speed to purchase affects other Key Performance Indicators, with increases in average basket size and revenue per day. Indeed, the bottom line figures are compelling - a retailer that achieved just 14% more transactions saw revenue increase by 203%; another increased conversion rate by just 18%, and yet saw a 254% increase in revenue as a result of increasing order value.

The bottom line
The perception that mobile is not a valid sales channel is clearly flawed: leading retailers are not just investing in mobile - they are prioritising mobile over desktop for a reason. These 'm-commerce first' strategies are transforming the customer experience and reinforcing brand values. Critically, they are measurably driving up revenues. Whilst mobile conversions are unlikely to reach the same level as desktop, simply due to the nature of mobile usage, dedicated mobile sites are fundamentally outperforming the rest of the market, with higher basket values and greater overall revenue.

The reality is that more customers now come to a retail business through mobile than any other channel; mobile is the primary touch point and a bad mobile experience will have cause long term damage to brand perception - no customer will even try out the desktop site if the first mobile experience is poor. Those 40% of retailers not considering mobile right now might just need to think again - and do more than a quick fix responsive site. A m-commerce first approach is now a necessity.