From malls to mobile: quickening the retail connection

The first modern shopping mall was first unveiled to the world in Edina, Minnesota, when the Southdale Centre opened in 1954. Spanning 500 acres, boasting three floors and providing quick access to a highway, the pioneering shopping centre responded to the new generation of car-centric consumers.

The success of Southdale, which is still going strong, saw 300 similar shopping malls open across the US by 1970, and the number quadruple to over 1,200 by 2017.

The Southdale Centre mall set a blueprint that defined the retail experience for the next half-century based on considering what technologies were connecting consumers to retailers. In the 1950s, that connecting technology was a car. In 2018, that connecting technology is our smartphones.

Today mobile is empowering shoppers and changing how retailers think about their business. Google research has found that almost every consumer in the UK - 92% - uses a mobile phone: people use them to compare prices (32%), research ideas (29%) and discover brands (23%). Smartphones have given retailers “a new front door to the store” – a phrase used by the retail giant Target, after discovering that three in four of its visitors start their shopping journey on mobile. 

When it came to shopping at the Southdale Centre, how quickly consumers were connected to retailers largely depended on their distance from the store, their access to an automobile and their luck with finding a parking spot. When it comes to our definition of connectivity on mobile, what ‘fast’ means is changing day by day. 

A recent Mobile Site Benchmark Study conducted by Google found that Britain is behind the curve when it comes to how quickly sites load on mobile, coming 10th out of the 17 major European countries surveyed. The research also drilled into the load time for the UK’s 10 major sectors and discovered that retail lagged behind, coming in eighth and falling behind sectors such as finance, healthcare and education.

A good illustration of the importance of mobile comes from Shop Direct. The company behind and announced that in 2017 mobile devices accounted for over half (53%) of its full year sales for the first time. The acceleration of this trend is remarkable considering that Shop Direct only took its first mobile order in 2010.

Such examples and the fact that half of all web traffic is now coming from mobile phones means the consequences of slow loading speeds are more evident than ever. Google’s research shows 53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes three seconds or more to load.

That percentage quickly increases as page load time increases - if you keep mobile users waiting from just one second to five seconds, the probability of them deserting spikes by 90%. For ecommerce sites, abandonment due to slow load times can be doubly costly since 79% of shoppers who are dissatisfied with site performance say they're less likely to purchase from the same site again.

Half of those surveyed think sites should load in less than two seconds yet, in the UK, the average is a whopping 8.9 seconds. This discrepancy represents a huge opportunity for retailers to exceed customer expectations and provide a speedy and seamless mobile experience.

We have seen how retailers have hamstrung themselves by not considering how their audiences will be accessing their online experiences. Retailers often upload multiple, large, high quality images of goods and products, and while these might look great and work excellently on a desktop, on a mobile these files are too big to load in a quick and efficient manner, ultimately costing retailers mobile customers.

When designing for mobile it’s crucial to make sure the infrastructure is right; prioritise what you want your visitors to see first, ensuring you have the right balance between developer and creative to find the best solution when it comes to image size, quality and quantity.

To help retailers focus on speed and simplicity, Google recently launched two initiatives aimed at driving improvements in mobile experience. The first initiative, Speed Scorecard, helps businesses measure how their mobile speed ranks in their industries. The second tool, the Impact Calculator, allows companies to estimate how much revenue could be increased if they improved their mobile site speed.

These tools will help retailers respond to the findings from Google’s Mobile Site Benchmark Study, as they clearly illustrate how businesses’ bottom lines are affected by mobile experience. Our analysis suggests a site with an average of 150,000 monthly visitors and an initial conversion rate of 2.5% on order values averaging $75 could see an increase of $225,000 in annual revenue, if loading time dropped from six seconds to three.

From Southdale to smartphones, the core principles of success in retail remain the same. Retailers triumph when they can offer seamless experiences that embrace the technologies and devices consumers are using every day. Here are three easy-to-action ways to speed up your mobile experience:
Unpack the essentials first - Prioritise above-the-fold content over anything else. That way, users consider your site fully loaded earlier on, and can start shopping faster. If you have multiple JavaScript and CSS files, have those load in later on, as users start reading and interacting.
Make fewer trips to and from the van - Each resource on your mobile site requires additional requests from the server, so try to group similar files together (e.g.. JS with JS, CSS with CSS, etc). Small images under 10KB can also be combined into a sprite or web format.
Lighter boxes make easier carrying - Large images take longer to load and slow things down. Compress your images to below 100KB wherever possible. GZIP is a free to use software that can also reduce the size of text-based resources like CSS or JS by as much as 70-80%. 

RBTE takes place at London’s Olympia, 2-3 May 2018.

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