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In April I wrote about the massive impact mobile is having on e-commerce, a trend that's being hindered somewhat by the lousy mobile experiences some retailers are presenting consumers. As I wrote, companies have a choice between using mobile applications or mobile versions of their websites. While mobile apps offer the superior customer experience, many companies are choosing mobile websites to leverage existing investments in Internet development and marketing.

 

I also shared several suggestions on creating apps consumers will like. I just found a great Media Connection post by Eric Anderson on five common problems with mobile websites. IT Business Edge's Susan Hall has written numerous times about in-demand skils for mobile developers, usually focusing on technical skills. With all the focus on architecture, I think the need for usability is often given short shrift.

 

Anderson obviously agrees, pointing out that too often companies simply shrink existing websites without making any design tweaks to make them more appropriate for the mobile experience. He cites a dotMobi figure that just 29.7 percent of the Web's top 10,000 sites are optimized for mobile.

 


His top five design flaws, with suggestions for fixing them:

  • Not making use of location features. Because location "sniffing" is a core capability of the HTML5 platform, Anderson says he can't understand why any retailer with brick-and-mortar presence wouldn't use it. To illustrate, he shows Lowe's mobile site, which points users to the nearest Lowe's after sniffing their current geographic location, and IKEA's, which makes users select the continent they are on.
  • Not designing with mobile navigation in mind. Most users navigate using their thumbs. Yet lots of sites make it nearly impossible not to click on unwanted links with their cluttered designs. Anderson suggests companies should limit links and task paths to make it easier for users to click on what they want. Wells Fargo nails this, he says (and illustrates with a screen shot), offering just four links and three likely task paths.
  • Making forms hard to use. Too many forms require mobile users to zoom, scroll and otherwise navigate through a lengthy and complicated process. As an example of a well-done mobile form, he presents Hertz, which breaks its form into manageable chunks and delivers just the information users need for each step. National Car Rental, in contrast, presents a tiny, hard-to-read version of a full form on a single screen.
  • Neglecting the brand. Retailers still need to tell their brand story, albeit in a way that makes sense on a mobile device. No fancy Flash, for instance.
  • Not fully committing to the mobile vision. This, Anderson says, "might be worse than doing nothing." As an example of what he means, he mentions the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center site, with its mobile homepage that does a great job of anticipating user needs and prioritizing navigation based on finding a physician and locating a facility but then presents the same long dropdown menus as on its regular site.


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