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Oct 15, 2012

Is Making your Website Mobile Compatible Worth the Trouble?

Mobile Internet usage hits new highs1 and sparks off the old debate over whether making your website more compatible is worth the trouble. It is true that it improves the user experience and your brand’s reputation, but by how much? And does it lead to an increase in sales revenue? It’s important to consider the psychological factors and the research results behind this and find out.

Currently, worldwide mobile Internet usage stands at 10% of all ‘net traffic2, although for some regions this figure is much higher; Asia is at 18%, and India is at nearly 50%. On the other end of the spectrum is North America at 8% and Europe at 5.1%. Another important statistic is penetration of smartphones into age groups. Not surprisingly, the young lead the way at 62% of U.S. teenagers vs. 53% for middle-aged adults3. Going mobile requires a hefty investment in designing and maintaining separate website structures with similar content. This investment can only be justified if the cost of going mobile is less than the benefits, such as a substantial increase in revenue and profits.

Obviously, the different demographic and geographic groups have different spending power and consumer preferences. For example, the young adults can spend more and have better access to shopping tools than their teenage counterparts. Additionally, people in developed countries are more likely to shop online than people in developing ones. From the numbers so far, it seems that the viability of converting your website depends heavily on your industry, on your target audience—its habits and purchasing power—and on your geographical location. For example, if you target young adults with trendy and relatively inexpensive items, there is a case for mobile optimization because it is 1) within their habits and 2) within their purchasing power.

All these considerations are based on the assumption that mobile and desktop traffic were of the same quality, that is, they have the same conversion ratio. But that isn’t always the case; in fact, it is rarely the case. Aggregated conversion rates for desktop, tablet and mobile stand at 3.4%, 2.5%, and 1% respectively4. From this data, you can conclude that mobile traffic is three times as bad as desktop because it would take three times as many visits for a single sale. This makes the case for mobile optimization worse, however the numbers should be examined more closely.

Conversion rates are heavily influenced by the industry and the company, with some star performers reaching a breathtaking 42%5. It seems more realistic, then, to work with 2% as a normal conversion ratio. Mobile conversion heavily depends on the website quality and the effort and investment in it, reaching 1.5%6. This still means the cost per customer = (initial design investment)/(incoming clients) will be higher for mobile design, and even eat into your company’s profits. Additionally, customers tend to buy less on their phones7, which further makes mobile optimization expensive.

The numbers speak negatively about mobile optimization but what about the convenience? Few items require people to shop in an emergency on the street or in the elevator, although they can compare prices in physical stores. Furthermore, there are still many variables concerning mobile payment technology, so quite a few people will be hesitant to input sensitive data on their mobile phones.

You should take your industry and business specifications into consideration when deciding whether mobile use optimization is for you. Consider your consumer group behavior, purchasing power and mobile Internet usage. But if you cannot determine any of that with certainty, the best thing to do is ask your customers about their opinion.