Optimise mobile or lose out

Digital lifestyle and Future technology

22 Jun Optimise mobile or lose out

Cloud services provider Akamai says businesses need to optimise surfing experience, especially on mobile devices, with Asia-Pacific having taken to e-commerce in a big way, reports CHOO WOON LIM.

THE e-commerce sector has been experiencing an unprecedented boom, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, with market research company eMarketer estimating that by 2016, 38% of all business-to-consumer e-commerce sales will come from the region.

Meanwhile, Ernst & Young is forecasting that the number of middle-class consumers with disposable income and fast Internet connection in emerging markets will also grow from the current 525 million to some three billion people by 2030.

We spoke to Jason Miller, chief strategist of commerce at leading cloud services provider Akamai Technologies (San Francisco), on the opportunities, challenges and the way forward for the e-commerce sector in Asia Pacific.

Tell us about what Akamai does.

We make the Internet experience faster, more reliable and secure. Our goal is to take scalability and customary infrastructure and make it more efficient for our clients.

We do a lot of that by bringing content closer to the user. We have products based on optimising responsive design. For example, if you’re on a slow 3G connection, we make the image fit the resolution of the design and network you’re surfing on.

Many homepages have a large hero main ad and it looks fine on a desktop, but you don’t want to download all the extra information on a mobile, so we resize it – which improves performance by 60%-70%. The concept is that it doesn’t matter which network you’re connecting over – whether it’s wireless, 3G or desktop.

We also have a security load to protect your infrastructure and website from security breaches and hacking attacks. During holidays or flash sales, we keep the solid performance of the site, which protects the reputation of the company by not having it go down in a busy period.

How is the growth of the e-commerce sector in Asia?

E-commerce in Asia is one of the fastest growing markets. By the end of 2015, it is estimated that it is going to be over a third of the global e-commerce market. During Black Friday in the US, they did US$1.5bil in sales, and that’s a great number. This is a big increase year over year, about 16%.

But if you compare that to Alibaba.com on Singles Day, they did US$9.3bil in just 24 hours. It really puts into perspective the massive growth and potential within Asia.

What can existing e-commerce businesses look at improving on?

Overall customer experience across whichever device they want to connect over – which might be anything from perceived speed of the site to performance and security. We can find a direct correlation between customer experience and increased conversion.

A majority of customers won’t wait for more than a few seconds for a website to load, so it’s really important to offer them the proper experience and speed for the device. One of the angles that we look at is a visually complete page.

When you’re on your phone, there is a large portion of the webpage that you may not see immediately. One of the ways to improve this is to optimise the order of items that download to make up that page, to make sure that it is visually complete as quickly as possible.

This increases the user’s perception on how quickly the page downloads, how quickly they can interact with it, and that in turn increases customer conversion and satisfaction.

What is the potential for mobile growth in e-commerce?

What we see is a higher rate of mobile growth within Asia-Pacific. It offers a huge opportunity.

Studies show that customers who had mobile devices converted US$800 higher per year per capita than customers who only shop on desktop. When you can cater what they want, on the device that they want to utilise, you’re going to have higher level of conversion and higher sales.

Google has even made it so that when you go on a site, it tells you if it’s mobile-friendly. Pages that load faster and are mobile-friendly tend to get better rankings in search engines. That’s how important mobile is these days.

If we look at more developed nations in this area, we see a lot of multi-device usage – you’re answering emails on your phone, commuting and browsing the Net, you get to the office and use a desktop, and in the evening you’re on your tablet watching shows.

It’s important for e-retailers to think about the entire customer experience. You can’t optimise just for one platform, you have to deliver it across all devices. For example, studies have shown that when companies send out marketing emails, an average of 66% of these are opened on a mobile device first.

If you haven’t optimised the mobile experience, you lose potential first-touch with a customer. If they land on a desktop page on their mobiles and have to zoom, that’s poor customer experience.

What about Malaysia?

Nielsen did a study that showed that eight out of 10 Malaysians use their phone to research products and services before they buy it online.

Mobile phone penetration is actually higher than in the US, which is only about 67%. Malaysians lead the world in terms of mobile internet usage at 35% users using mobile phone as internet device exclusively.

Countries like Vietnam and Philippines are also skipping desktop and going straight to mobile.

Looking at the number of people who don’t have phones yet, there is a big growth potential. It really highlights the need to focus on mobile first when coming up with a business concept. Even if customers are not converting to mobile and sticking to desktop, you can’t ignore the mobile device because it’s part of the opportunity.

What are some of the challenges that e-commerce businesses face today?

Scalability. When you build your website, you always have to make sure that it has the scalability to handle that load or traffic.

You look at established companies that have been in business for a long time and may have a legacy of hardware and software. That makes it difficult for them to move forward and take advantage of some of the new mobile responsive design because they have to play catch-up with that technology, or what we call technical debt.

Another thing is to make sure customers trust your reputation, so it comes around to security and reliability. Your website being down and unavailable obviously hurts your reputation and sales. If you have security breaches, that is future sales and future users.

Logistics is another challenge. As companies get bigger and expand internationally, there are going to be problems dealing with customs and shipping. But I think this is something faced by all e-commerce businesses.

With so much competition, how can e-commerce businesses differentiate themselves?

Pricing and delivery. Take Amazon, which makes a really large play on how quickly they can ship things to you.

Retailers in North America adopt the personalisation concept. Products and item offers related to weather in your local area, items related to browsing history, how you came to the site. It makes it more personal and contributes to a seamless customer experience.

For example, within the States, Macy’s have a product called “shop beacon” which brings web personalisation in-store. Customers who have the app on their phone can go into the store, and it recognises who you are, calls you by name and guides you to the product.

Many people are still concerned about security for online transactions. What are your thoughts?

It’s going to take a while for sites to prove themselves that they’re going to be trustworthy with the data provided.

To overcome that, many companies are turning to tokenisation. For example, you can add your credit card to your phone, and the company keeps a garbage number that only means something to the company you are making the transaction with.

The merchant never sees your credit card number, and never in the transaction can the credit card number be stolen. This encourages a greater level of trust with consumers.

Do you see a trend of brick-and-mortar businesses going online?

In the US, some high-end fashion brands actually started off as pure e-commerce, and then became stores where customers can try clothes on and they’ll still ship it to you – sort of a hybrid e-commerce concept.

In general, customers don’t end up just as an e-commerce or brick-and-mortar customer – they’re going to use both. It all boils down to convenience, which is a keypoint in customer experience.

 

Source: The Star

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