I just read a report by Screen Pages regarding current mobile usage of e-commerce websites on mobile devices. To me the findings are exactly what I would expect, but their interpretation of the data to me is completely off. In the report the main points are that conversion on e-commerce websites is nearly half of what it is when users visit on their PC. As a result, they believe the reason is that the websites visited were not built for mobile devices so the usability and focus on design for conversion needed to be improved.

“The commercial message here is clear”, says Roger Willcocks, director of Screen Pages: “If mobiles are 10% of your business and conversions are 40% lower, on a site with 10,000 visits per day with a conversion ratio of 3% and an average order value of £50, mobile usage can represent a loss in revenue of over £300,000.”

However, I believe this just shows that people don’t want to buy something while they are using their mobile device – they are on the site with their mobile device for other reasons most likely being research. When I’m on my iPhone and visiting an e-commerce website it’s usually because I’m at lunch and researching presents for my wife. Or, again while at lunch, someone posted a link to a product on Facebook and I wanted to check it out. On my lunch I am not looking to actually make a purchase. I only use my iPhone for quick online usage, not for regular web browsing. To me this is the most fundamental issue that all the data analysts always forget to take into account. I do not believe that users on their iPhone do not use it for primary web browsing and interaction with websites. It is merely a convenience tool to quickly look up something while you are out and about. While they may visit the same website on their iPhone as their PC, their end goals are very different. Research while on the iPhone when you have a few minutes then wait until you get to your PC to actually make the purchase.

So one stat I feel supports all this is the bounce rate:

Average bounce rates are lower by 5% (40% vs 35%). Bounce rates are a measure of engagement and show the % of visitors who arrive on a page and leave. Driven by smaller screens and possibly the more demanding mobile user, websites must work harder to engage.

To me this means users are not leaving (or ultimately converting less) because of the website not being optimized for smaller screens like the iPhone. At the end of the article they discuss how the iPad stats are very close to PC stats in terms of bounce rate and conversion. Based on my personal experience this sounds exactly right since we use our iPad at home extensively while sitting on the sofa for regular web browsing just like we would on our PC (but we don’t have to go to the office and stop watching our favorite TV show).

So what does this all mean? Do you need a mobile version of your e-commerce site? Like I wrote previously – it depends. According to the article 10% of all visitors to their test sites were on mobile devices. Is 10% enough traffic to make a small screen version of your site for iPhones and other similar devices? In my opinion, for our clients, no. Of that 10%, only a certain percentage were iPhone (or similar device) users and the rest were tablets like iPad. As I have written, I don’t believe iPhone visitors are on the website with the intention of purchasing. Our clients are not multi-million dollar companies but small businesses so the investment to build a small screen version of their site does not have enough ROI to make it worthwhile. If you were making $100 million in sales per month, then absolutely the ROI on doing a small screen version of your site to maximize conversions for those few people with purchase intent on their iPhone would be worthwhile.