Written by Joanna Perry

Are you one of many brands with a mobile site that generates lots of traffic, but struggles to get users to convert? My advice would be to look at how easily your customers use mobile social media sites and apps, and let it inspire the UX on your mobile site.

This advice is based on the 2014 and 2015 mobile usability research reports published by Practicology. Working with UX testing specialists WhatUsersDo, we recorded consumers on their own devices in their own homes using a variety of retailers’ mobile sites to identify good design practices and blockers to conversion.

We found that even consumers who were new to using mobile shopping sites had expectations about how easy they should be to use, and these expectations are running ahead of the experience that many retailers deliver. In particular, they appear to be influenced by the mobile UX delivered by social networks.

This should come as no surprise. Acknowledged expert in website usability, Jakob Nielsen has created a law of web user experience: “Users spend most of their time on other websites.” He argues that web users expect your website to work in the same way as the websites they already use, as they have learnt how the web works by using other websites.

And the websites and apps that smartphone users are prevalent on are those of major social networks. Facebook has over 1.01 billion daily active users, 0.89 billion – that’s 89% – of which are using mobile versions of the social network. In September 2015, Twitter stated that80% of its worldwide active users are mobile. Further to this, in 2014 Twitter UK revealed that for 70% of UK users mobile is the primary way they access the social network.

In addition, UK media and telecoms regulator Ofcom’s research has shown that in 2015, 62% of smartphone users have a social media app downloaded on their phone, compared with 34% who have a shopping app. Among 16-24 year olds these figures rise to 85% and 43% respectively.

But what does this mean for mobile ecommerce site design?

Menu icons

One of the first things we picked up on in UX testing was that consumers were already comfortable with the idea of the “burger” menu icon – the three little horizontal lines signifying that there is a navigation menu the user can discover. This is the menu icon that Facebook uses.

Navigation icons

Twitter Navigation - Usabilla

Similarly, in our 2014 report, we highlighted that for navigation icons that users might not easily identify, it helps to put a small text explanation underneath. On Twitter’s mobile site, the words Home, Connect, Discover and Me are all used to explain its icons.

Search

Results that begin displaying as soon as users start typing in a retailer’s site search box are appreciated by users; look at how Facebook or even Google does similar to see why consumers have become used to this. Our research has also shown that users don’t require a search box to always be visible in the header, as long as the search icon to get the box to open is prominent and labelled.

Location-based services

Location services - Usabilla

Phone technology that allows a site to know the user’s location is employed by both social networks and shopping sites. Social networks tend to make this is a slick experience, for instance when posting. Online retailers often put automatic location as a secondary option to typing in a location, for instance on the store locator page.

Scrolling

Consumers are very comfortable with scrolling through long pages – think social media timelines – and have a preference for this over loading page after page (which can often be slow on mobile). Retailers could learn from this in how they design their mobile product listings pages.

Multichannel data

Social networks are great at serving up the same information through every channel – be it mobile app, mobile site or desktop site. This experience can translate into an expectation on retail sites of information that is also cross-platform. The best retailers address this with features such as being able to add an item to basket while logged in on the mobile site, and that item still being in their basket if they login on the desktop site.