Never before has it been easier to shop. We can do it while commuting, lying in bed, walking down the street or even sitting in the bath – all from our smartphones.
The rise of the ubiquitous smartphone means that 60 per cent of Rakuten Ichiba’s sales are now conducted on smartphones or tablets. So it’s crucial for us at Rakuten – and other e-commerce operators, too – to get mobile platforms right.
We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the most fundamental ground rules for developing a successful e-commerce platform for a smartphone. These are our top five:
1. If you’re developing for a smartphone, start from a smartphone
Stop taking the approach of simply optimizing desktop websites to fit into smartphones. Optimizing desktop services is of course important, but desktops and smartphones are two very different devices and should be considered separately. So when a new mobile e-commerce service or function is being considered, the smartphone should be the starting point.
2. Understand the difference between websites and applications
Websites have the distinct advantage of being easily discoverable through tools such as search engines. Users do not need to download anything, and the content is easily updated. Apps, on the other hand, have a richer user experience (UX) and come with a variety of functions including push notifications, deep linking and more. All of these are easily accessible from within the app. Make sure to understand these differences and have a good product strategy that takes advantage of the characteristics of each, and offers seamless synergy between them – because some of your users will use both.
3. Get your connectivity right
As I mentioned before, your smartphone platform should be developed from the ground up – not as a spinoff of your PC platform. But that doesn’t mean you can forget PC altogether. At the moment, most people still use both a smartphone and a desktop. That means you need to think carefully about how your smartphone offering is going to mesh with its PC version. You need to understand your customer journey: How will your customers use PCs and smartphones? What information will they gain and what kind of actions will they take on each? Are they each optimized for those purposes? And will users be able to switch back between the two platforms?
4. Update your app with every OS update
For the most part, smartphone-based services are going to be built on either or both of the two major operating systems: Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. If you want your service to look up-to-date, you need to make sure you keep it up-to-date. That means every time an OS are updated, you need to update your platform to take advantage of all the new functions. The point is, your competitors will update, so if you don’t at the same time, your platform will start to look very old very soon.
5. Think about chat UI (user interface)
This is something that is becoming more and more important in the tech industry. Most smartphone users make use of messaging apps like Viber, Facebook Messenger and LINE – in fact, in Japan, a majority of the time spent on the internet is dedicated to messaging. This means that smartphone users are highly accustomed to using chat app interfaces. So, if you integrate a messaging interface with an AI chatbot and provide functionality like that of Siri or OK Google to your e-commerce platform, you will provide a familiar yet completely new shopping experience to users.
To read more on Tomoya Ishikawa’s thoughts on the importance of developing for mobile and IoT devices, see here.