Mobile commerce has made giant strides over the last several years. An ever-growing number of consumers use their mobile devices to browse, compare prices and make purchases from anywhere, and data indicates that this trend will only continue to soar.
A recent report by research firm Javelin Strategy found that mobile retail sales in 2013 reached an all-time high of more than $60 billion, and the company predicts that this number will grow significantly over the next five years. This growth is likely due to the high percentage of Americans who own smart mobile devices: Pew Research's latest figures, from January 2014, show that more than 70 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 49 own smartphones (58 percent for all age groups), and 42 percent of all adults own tablets. Additionally, Pew found that 34 percent of adults with cell Internet access use their phones as their primary method of going online.
Despite these statistics, small businesses still lag in embracing mobile commerce, said Geoff Austin, marketing director of e-commerce platform Selz.com.
"Many business owners have the misconception that ecommerce is technically difficult, expensive and time-consuming," Austin told Business News Daily. "To be mobile commerce ready, they think they need to have an app or a separate mobile website which is all too much hassle and cost for the average small business. The good news is that you can have one website that customers can use to purchase no matter what device they use, whether it be on a desktop PC, smartphone or tablet, if the website is built using responsive design."
Modern hosted e-commerce platforms allow anyone with little or no technical knowledge to create an online store, or add e-commerce to an existing site easily and affordably, Austin said. Most e-commerce platforms now use responsive design to ensure that a website or shopping cart displays effectively across a range of screen sizes and devices. [For a side-by-side comparison of the best e-commerce software, visit our sister site Business.com.]
Austin shared five simple steps small business owners can take to make sure their businesses are primed for mobile commerce.
Use the right tools for the job. To get a website or online store, use a hosted platform with responsive design. If you're already using a popular blog platform like WordPress, choose a theme and shopping cart that employ responsive design. This makes securely processing credit card payments on a WordPress site as easy as cutting and pasting a snippet of code for one of the popular hosted shopping carts, Austin said.
Think mobile first. Check that your website design and navigation work well on mobile devices. Austin advised keeping any inputs to forms to a minimum. And make sure that the checkout process for customers is simple, easy and quick to complete on a mobile device, as fingers are clumsier on a smartphone than on a PC keyboard.
Get the e-commerce basics right. Good-quality images and descriptions are essential. Nothing will turn a prospective buyer off more quickly than a bad picture of your product. Be clear about communicating your shipping costs, delivery times and any warranties. If possible, offer free shipping above a particular order value if you sell physical products.
Remember that speed matters. Using a mobile device makes people very impatient, and businesses often lose sales if their sites don't load quickly enough, or if the checkout process takes too long. For this reason, Austin recommended that small businesses use a hosted website or e-commerce solution that has been optimized for speed.
Make the most of social media. Apps, especially those for social media, continue to be the most popular way to spend time on mobile devices. Small business can use these social networks as an additional sales channel. They're also a good way to engage with prospective customers.
"It is fairly simple to get mobile ready," Austin said. "You just need to use the right tools and to look at your site from a mobile perspective. Of course, you can always get professional help, but this is often beyond the budget of most small businesses, and unnecessary. Most small business owners are capable of doing it by learning from each other."