April 6, 2015

Our Hypothesis: Mobile doesn’t convert as well as desktop (and it never will)

The average user checks their phone 150 times a day.

That’s a little over nine times an hour.

Which means every six to seven minutes we are all basically checking something, be it email, facebook, text messages, or the time. On average, mobile users spent 162 minutes of every day in 2014 on their phones, overtaking PC internet usage for the first time in history. Four years from now, smartphone adoption is expected to reach 50% market penetration-on the planet earth. Desktop & laptop combined peaked at approximately 25%.

Bottom line is (some form) of “mobile” is now, and will remain for the foreseeable future, the dominant way humans access the internet.

On the other side of this trend are online retailers and digital brands whose businesses have been built on the back of the original desktop format of the internet and for whom desktop sales still account for the vast majority of their revenue. These businesses are seeing an explosion in traffic from mobile devices. For many, it has surpassed 50% of total site traffic.  There’s just one thing: most mobile conversion rates are horrible.

This trend is making many a digital business executive nervous. Clients are approaching us with 50%+ disparities between their desktop and mobile conversion rates and asking for help. In general, mobile conversion is being viewed as a major problem that must be fixed ASAP. Attempts to do so  have centered around investments in converting the existing desktop experience into one that is optimized for mobile devices of all shapes and sizes (I’m looking at you, responsive design).

Rethinking the Funnel

The majority of these investments operate under the hypothesis that simply making the desktop experience fit on mobile will translate to sales. To be sure, gains have been made with this approach, but they are consistently falling short of the expectations businesses had for the investment. So why are these tactics not living up?  Why in spite of these admirable attempts to create highly optimized, device aware, thumb-friendly mobile versions of our desktop experiences are conversion rates still lagging way behind the desktop?

Our hypothesis is that there are two key reasons:

  1. The mobile funnel is wider.
  2. Significantly more mobile visits are not convertible…no matter what you do.

We are moving to a world where every man, woman, and child has a phone with a web browser and internet connection, and we are using them, as noted earlier, 150 times a day in every free moment we have.  We use them in between meetings and classes, while walking down the sidewalk, in the line at Starbucks, while driving (sadly), while in the restroom (everybody’s doing it), and, yes, on the proverbial couch at night while watching Netflix.

Think about your own usage patterns.  Of all the times you pull out your phone each day, how many of those moments are you actually “convertible”? When exactly are these moments where the only thing standing between you and that mobile order is the user experience of the site you are on?

Yet, you are absolutely browsing and visiting sites.  You are reading emails and (quickly) clicking on offers.  You are reading tweets and Facebook posts and (quickly) clicking on offers.

What’s that leave us with? Answer A: more visits from users who will not (and can’t) actually convert in the context they are in and, therefore, a lower conversion rate for these visits…forever.

Now What?

Ok, so the funnel is wider and the traffic is not as convertible, but now what? At Clearhead we believe it’s time to start re-defining the metrics of success for mobile and adjust tactics for targeting this rapidly growing segment.

First off, judging your mobile performance by comparing it to your desktop is apples to oranges.  Stop it! Imagine how bad your Apple Watch conversion rates are going to be when you compare them to your desktop.

Mobile is its own unique channel and should be benchmarked against mobile, so start by comparing your mobile site to, say, the mobile sites of your competitors.

Another hypothesis we are exploring is that people browse on mobile and buy later on desktop and tablets… or mobile. This is certainly not a new idea, but with the help of new features like User-ID in Google’s Universal Analytics, it’s getting easier than ever to validate. With this mindset in tow, we find ourselves increasingly urging our clients towards tests that focus on “Remind Me Later” versus  “Buy Now” and can’t wait to update you on the results.

In the meantime, feel free to poke holes in our thinking or share your mobile testing stories in the comments below.  Widening the conversation is what this is all about.

Sources: KPCB Internet Trends, Geekwire, Search Engine Watch

  • Hi Ryan,

    Great article and couldn’t agree more!…I am finding this trend also with a few eCommerce clients, of ever higher mobile visitor growth combined with lower over all conversion rates. Just wondering if you have any updates in regards to your testing to make the mobile experience more ‘remind me later’ ?….I am now thinking how important email capture and email automation to remind visitors might be as a primary mobile goal?….having this capture through every step from the home page, product page and check out.

  • Hi Ryan,

    Great article and couldn’t agree more!…I am finding this trend also with a few eCommerce clients, of ever higher mobile visitor growth combined with lower over all conversion rates. Just wondering if you have any updates in regards to your testing to make the mobile experience more ‘remind me later’ ?….I am now thinking how important email capture and email automation to remind visitors might be as a primary mobile goal?….having this capture through every step from the home page, product page and check out.