4 Takeaways from Google’s New Mobile Commerce Research

To celebrate the release of Google’s new mobile commerce research ‘Principles of Mobile Site Design‘, the team at Mountain View invited Mobify’s Director of Demand Generation, Luke Starbuck, to the Googleplex in order to discuss best practices and mobile commerce strategies in 2014.

The session was focused on demystifying the most important aspects of mobile user experience, so that businesses can take action based on the findings of the recent study, which included user testing of 100 different mobile websites.

The outcome of the roundtable session was a lively discussion that dove into some of the top ideas surfaced during the research, and provided further insight into how exactly businesses can create compelling mobile commerce experiences for their customers on mobile devices.

You can watch the full discussion above, or quickly read the top four highlights below.

And don’t forget to grab a copy of the mobile research report itself in Google’s multi-screen resource library!

Takeaway #1: Understanding Your Mobile Customers is Critical

“It’s about understanding your customers, making sure you understand the mobile use case, evaluating how you’re performing relative to [the new design] principles, and figuring out a plan of action using a vendor if you don’t have in-house resources.”

– John Sullivan, Director of Search Strategy, Google.

Since web-enabled smartphones first hit the market, businesses have been asking themselves “How are people going to use these devices? What do they want to do when they come to our site on a mobile device?”

As devices have become more capable, and more sites have created compelling mobile experiences, the difference between how desktop visitors and mobile visitors use a site has narrowed. However, it’s still critically important to track and understand how each segment uses the site differently. While many visitor goals remain consistent across devices, the way visitors use a site changes dramatically based on the technology in front of them.

During the session, the panel suggested that mobile sites which streamline the structure of navigation elements and include front and center search functionality will perform much better than those that have simply ported desktop navigation over for smaller screens.

If you’re looking to understand how visitors to your site change behaviours based on the device they are on, check out our primer on how to use analytics to better understand your mobile visitors.

Takeaway #2: The Little Things Make a Huge Difference

“The important thing that I keep in mind is that all the little frictions count. Watch every single tap and swipe you’re requiring of your users. Because when you’re on the go, it [can be] pretty annoying.”

– Manu Lakkur, Product Manager, Google.

“One of my big takeaways from the research was that the details matter. Certainly they matter on desktop. But it seems to take on heightened importance on mobile.”

– John Sullivan, Director of Search Strategy, Google.

We spend so much time and energy tackling the ‘big picture’ wins on our websites that it can be easy to forget how much the small things matter too. In the long run however, it’s the small things that make the difference between a frustrating user experience and a great one.

On mobile, an unnecessary tap, swipe, or keystroke can result in users abandoning a task because it’s simply too annoying to complete. If they run into even one or two stumbling blocks across the site, their perception is that the site as a whole is that it’s difficult to use.

An example delivered during the session was the idea that a lot of sites ask visitors what type of credit card they’re using, despite the fact that it’s possible to get this information from the card number a user inputs. So why ask your customers to take the extra action?

As a website owner, the best thing you can do is audit your site on a mobile device while actively searching for these stumbling blocks and little annoyances.

And don’t do the audit in the office using the fast office Wi-Fi – rather, put yourself in the shoes of one of your customers and try using the site somewhere where your connection is likely to be a little more unpredictable.

You’ll notice that things you were willing to forgive while sitting at a desk in the office become incredibly annoying while waiting in line at the coffee shop.

Takeaway #3: The Worst Experiences Happen When Mobile-Optimized Meets Non Mobile-Optimized

“We found in the study that [when] navigating through mobile-optimized screens, [if] you hit a part of the site that was non mobile-optimized, [that] was the worst experience all round.”

– Jenny Gove, User Experience Researcher, Google.

For many companies, building an end-to-end mobile commerce experience has proven to be too expensive, too resource intensive, or just too difficult.

However, Google’s research shows that when a mobile customer jumps between a mobile-optimized page and a non mobile-optimized page, they’re likely to quickly bounce from the site. Why? It’s simply a jarring experience that forces the customer to adapt their expectations of how to use the site. They essentially have to relearn how to use the page, which is a frustrating experience.

This idea applies to every part of the website, too. If a customer is browsing products on a site, and then visits the account section to update their shipping details – if the section is unoptimized they’re likely to immediately bounce from the site.

Jenny’s advice: Make sure that every page of your site is mobile-optimized! However, if you’re not able to mobile-optimize the whole site due to limited resources, Jenny also suggests making sure that the most common user journeys are optimized for mobile.

One such example is the search-browse-buy journey that a customer takes to make a purchase. It is extremely important in this journey that the home page, search result page, category page, product detail page and checkout page(s) are mobile optimized, so the customer’s experience is a smooth one.

Takeaway #4: Responsive Design is a Great Strategy (But Be Careful!)

One of the questions that came from the audience during the discussion was:

“Should we develop custom experiences on a mobile site, or create seamless experiences using responsive design?”

How exactly responsive design fits into an overall e-commerce web strategy is one that comes up quite often. Most people are trying to understand whether rebuilding a desktop site responsively will increase conversions across all platforms, or whether the tradeoff between increased operational efficiency is worth the up-front cost of the rebuild?

As identified by the panel, the key aspect of responsive design for online retailers is remembering to factor in the platform-specific conversion optimizations that are required to create truly exceptional mobile shopping experiences. After all, the core benefit of responsive design – it results in a consistent experience across desktop, tablet and smartphone – means that by definition it isn’t optimized for conversions on each and every platform.

“It’s important to remember that responsive design isn’t necessarily conversion-optimized design”.

– Luke Starbuck, Director of Demand Generation, Mobify.

Ultimately, responsive design is a tricky topic for many retailers. If you’re looking to understand how responsive fits into your e-commerce web strategy, consider watching the webinar ‘Is Responsive Design the Right Choice for E-Commerce Websites?’ or learning more about how online retailers can mitigate the risks of going responsive.


When it comes to mobile, providing a great user experience to your customers is the same as providing a great experience when they walk into your shop, speak to a customer service agent, or visit your website from a desktop. Brands that create compelling experiences will be successful, and those who don’t keep up with changing customer expectations will fall behind.

Each of these key takeaways from Google’s mobile research is an important part of what it takes to create a successful mobile commerce strategy in 2014 – now is where the hard work begins!

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