You may have heard that ecommerce is on a path to outstrip traditional brick-and-mortar stores. But did you know that mobile commerce, or m-commerce, is growing at an even faster rate?
Smartphones’ share of U.S. online retail sales surpassed 30% in the third quarter of 2018—and that’s without counting in-app sales.
If you think about how much time you spend on your own smartphone, it’s no surprise that ecommerce is rapidly going mobile. That means enabling, optimizing and simplifying online purchase for the m-commerce generation is critical for online success. Here’s everything you need to know about m-commerce, including how to optimize your business for mobile commerce.
M-commerce vs. Ecommerce: What’s the Difference?
On the surface, ecommerce and m-commerce are virtually identical. The former means selling products over the internet via desktop or laptop computers. The latter means doing exactly the same—but through handheld devices like smartphones or tablets.
What could be so different?
As it turns out, quite a lot. The objectives for both forms of selling online are similar: You’re still connecting customers to an inventory of products and helping them self-select through a web interface.
But many ecommerce tactics just don’t work on mobile. There are two major reasons why:
M-commerce Sales Take Place in a Different Ecosystem
Customers can make purchases from either a mobile website, or a mobile web app—slightly different from a standard mobile app as it’s accessed from a browser. Or they can opt to download and install a dedicated mobile app.
All three options can look almost the same on-screen, but each has pros and cons that need to be understood based on the behavior of a company’s target buyer.
Users Interact Differently With Mobile- and Desktop-Based Stores
The content, communications, and interface designed for consumption on a mobile website or app all have to be optimized for the habits and preferences of mobile users—which differ from desktop users.
The purchase journey also has to be crafted with mobile users in mind. In other words it has to be quick, swipeable, responsive, and easy to complete while on the go (and most likely multitasking).
Why Is M-commerce So Important Now?
Mobile has been marching to victory over desktop for some time, and it’s easy to understand why: Smartphones are compact and easy to carry. They let us access sites and services whenever and wherever we want.
Mobile broadband, meanwhile, has been steadily speeding up, while free Wi-Fi connections seem to be everywhere. Better connections enable richer mobile functionality, and more robust mobile software.
In other words, you can do more, faster, and with fewer glitches. That’s placed us beyond predicting mobile’s dominance, to the reality:
- The percentage of people who visited a webpage on mobile versus desktop was 16% higher in 2018. 
- M-commerce accounted for 39.6% of total U.S. ecommerce sales in 2018, and it’s set to hit 44.7% in 2019.
- A report by Adobe suggests that a third of total revenue from 2018 Black Friday sales came from m-commerce.
Types of M-commerce
While the label covers a wide variety of online business activity, the types of m-commerce transactions most people partake in can be broadly categorized in three ways:
Both complex and straightforward purchases are now possible through mobile websites; mobile web apps; downloadable, native-installed apps; and increasingly, through social media platforms.
Just like the online banking you do on desktop, mobile banking is simplified and ready-made for your smartphone or tablet. For reasons of security and user authentication, mobile banking usually requires installing a dedicated app.
Depending on the bank and the level of investment they’ve made in mobile to date, you may find varying degrees of usability and capabilities—but some of the most common activities you can complete with mobile banking include checking balances, transferring money, and completing payments.
Society already seems to be going cashless, but with m-commerce it could also go card-less.
Mobile payment refers to the ability to accept payments on a smartphone or tablet—using it as a handheld checkout terminal via a near field communication (NFC) card reader, or attachable card reader.
Mobile payments also refers to using smartphones as a form of payment: passing them over a point of sale terminal and allowing in-built functionality like Apple Pay to process the debit against a bank account.
How to Get Started with M-commerce
If you’re interested in pivoting your small business to encourage mobile sales, here are some tips to get started with m-commerce.
Optimize Your M-commerce Site or App
As you’ve likely employed with your ecommerce strategy, making the m-commerce shopping experience easy and intuitive for customers makes it more likely they’ll spend time browsing and eventually buying from your business via their phone or tablet.
Numbers from Google show that more than 60% of mobile users will quickly abandon a mobile site or uninstall an app if it’s glitchy or hard to use. Your m-commerce presence needs to designed and coded for different devices, platforms, and browsers to ensure that end users get a seamless experience.
Use Responsive Design
Responsive mobile web design enables your site or browser-based app to adapt its layout, fitting the screen size and resolution of the device being used to view it (typically Apple iOS, Android, or Microsoft).
It’s important that your app developer understands the latest in mobile web technology. Images, scripts, and page elements need to resize and adapt to the operating environment automatically, in order to fit the screen and operating system being used.
Simplify the User Experience
When it comes to m-commerce there’s really one motto: Go simple, or go home. Studies consistently show that people want simplicity and ease of use when they shop on mobile—even citing it as the deciding factor when they make an m-commerce purchase.
Your navigation and design should be built with this in mind. It’s important to think about the purchase journey you want your m-commerce shoppers to make when they first arrive at your small business website or app.
How many steps, taps, or swipes does it take to complete a transaction? It shouldn’t take more than a few actions between hitting ‘buy now’ and processing payment.
You’ll want to remove any barriers to buying while on the move. Here are some ways you can simplify the user experience:
- Make buttons larger and ensure that they’re clearly labeled—bigger fonts and shorter words.
- Minimize the steps your customer needs to take to complete a purchase, but keep visibility of your security protections high.
- Test across a range of different mobile devices to check for any potential issues, glitches, waits, or hang-ups that could stop a purchase from being completed.
Connect Social Marketing with Social Selling
This generation of shopper isn’t just mobile, it’s also social. Mobile users actually devote most of their screen time to social networks.
That’s why it’s common now to not only see a promoted product on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, but also have the option to purchase it without leaving the app.
Businesses thinking about their m-commerce strategy should also consider advertising on social networks, and look at the expanding array of m-commerce integrations they offer advertisers to increase mobile traffic and conversions.
Consider the Omnichannel Shopper
As important as mobile is, only a small segment of shoppers make purchases exclusively on their mobile devices—most people shop via a combination of mobile, desktop, and physical stores, otherwise known as “omnichannel” customers.
But even if someone isn’t completing a purchase on their phone, it may still play a role in their shopping experience. They may use apps to compare prices and download coupons. Often, they’ll have their smartphone handy in-store to check compare prices.
Omnichannel can also mean using mobile-enabled in-store checkouts, mobile wallets, or mobile payment services like Apple Pay to complete a transaction in an in-store checkout. Considering all of the channels your customers shop and make purchases will help you make the best decisions for your business, as well as drive your marketing strategy.
Enable Mobile Payments
Payment has evolved from bartering to coins and paper to plastic, and now from plastic to phones.
Mobile payment is disrupting the shopping experience and even upending the international payments infrastructure. Businesses large and small should embrace the trend and enable customers to use whatever payment modality they prefer.
For B2B m-commerce, that could mean accepting payment from mobile wallets, or mobile money transfers that eliminate the need for checks and invoices.
For consumer m-commerce, NFC-based options like Apple Pay—which works from an iPhone or Apple Watch—is rapidly expanding.
M-commerce Comes of Age
The birth of m-commerce happened in 1997 when Nokia and Coca-Cola installed the first mobile-phone enabled vending machines in Helsinki, Finland. Payment happened via SMS text. A few months later Merita Bank of Finland opened the first mobile phone-based banking service, also in partnership with Nokia and based on SMS.
A lot has changed since then. Nokia—once synonymous with mobile phones and mobile innovation—has fallen to the likes of Apple and Android.
Ultimately, m-commerce may turn out to be about more than selling stuff on iPhones. It is possibly a way to bridge the gap between desktop ecommerce and in-store or in-person selling.
For that, we’ll have to wait and see. For now, these tips can help you develop your m-commerce strategy so you can appeal to potential customers on whichever platform they prefer to shop.
- BusinessInsider.com. “Mobile Commerce is on the Rise in the US and it Already Accounts for Most Sales in Several Other Countries“
- Perficient.com. “Mobile vs. Desktop Usage in 2019“
- Statista.com. “U.S. Mobile Retail Commerce Sales as Percentage of e-Commerce Sales from 2017 to 2021“
- Adobe.com. “2019 Holiday Shopping Trends“
- GoogleMobileAds.com. “Mobile-Friendly Sites Turn Visitors into Customers“
- eConsultancy.com. “Smartphones and Tablets Drive an Increase in Impulse Buying Online“