Comment: Small screens, big profits

Mobile eCommerce is growing faster than originally thought, in fact, 'The Mobile Mandate' study – undertaken by PayPal, Google and OC&C Strategy Consultants, reveals that mobile shopping is set to treble in the UK over the next four years. The research states two thirds of consumers expect to use their phones to make purchases online by 2020. That’s around £43 billion worth of mobile transactions. What’s more, 80% of purchases – roughly £57 billion – will involve a phone at some point along the way, either through initial product research, price comparison or actual payment. 

In other words, the numbers are stacking up for smartphones.

However, despite the opportunity this represents, many UK retailers are yet to truly cash in. For example, the study shows that online shoppers value speed above all else. Yet leading UK retailer websites tend to be 10% to 25% slower to load on smartphones than their US counterparts. In the borderless, changeable world of eCommerce, that’s the equivalent of giving customers a choice between two brick and mortar stores: one with a queue and one without. Which would you go for?

It’s not just about lagging load times. Nearly half of Britons prefer customer support via mobile chat but only 16% of the top 100 UK retailers provide it. This again compares unfavourably to the US, where 41% of the top 100 retailers do so. Meanwhile, more people now use messaging apps each month (3 billion+ active users) than social networking sites (2.5 billion) but very few top UK retailers have a presence on a messaging platform. In contrast, around 250 million consumers in China were able to make a purchase through WeChat in 2016.

Fortunately, there are some simple ways for retailers to harness smartphones’ lucrative potential. Google research shows that improving load times of an online store by just one second can increase sale conversion rates by as much as 27% – something that can be quickly achieved by adding a one-click checkout button. Online messaging support and other easy-to-install services like basket sharing, wish-lists and recently viewed items that work across different devices can also help convert browsing into buying.

And there’s more. The next evolution of mobile shopping will reduce the consumer journey even further. Contextual commerce will enable consumers to buy things at the point of discovery – whether that’s in an email, on a Pinterest page or in a messenger app – rather than needing to click through to an online shop.

With all these options, along with an ever-more international array of products available at the touch of a button, there really has never been a better time to be a consumer. And as the screens customers use to buy things get smaller, profits for retailers who also go mobile are set to become bigger than ever.

Rob Harper is the senior director of mobile commerce at PayPal UK.