Americans Are Phoning the Web
E-commerce businesses, take notice: Increasing numbers of people are accessing the Web primarily through their cellphones. "Businesses who realize that the efforts put into an excellent mobile Web experience are as important as the main website -- more important, actually ... -- will be most ready for whatever the future holds for mobile," said mobile consultant Jonathan Thaler.
Cellphones have become a primary way for people in the U.S. to access the Web, according to a recent survey released by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.
Seventeen percent of of cellphone owners surveyed said they surfed the Web primarily with their phones rather than computers. Using their phones was a matter of convenience for many, but others said that they were the only means they had to access the Web.
Pew based its findings on a national telephone survey of 2,254 adults aged 18 and over conducted March 15 through April 3, 2012.
Eighty-eight percent of adults in the U.S. owned a cellphone as of April 2012, and 55 percent of those cellphone users accessed the Internet with their phones, the survey found. That represents an increase from the 31 percent of cellphone users who reported accessing the Internet with their phones in an April 2009 Pew survey.
"Phones are convenient," said Pew Research Center Senior Research Specialist Aaron Smith, who wrote the survey report.
"They're always there, and they fit with peoples' lifestyles," he told the E-Commerce Times.
Whether the trend toward phone access of the Internet will continue is an unknown, but Pew's surveys do indicate a steady increase in all kinds of mobility.
"We stay out of the trend prediction business," said Smith, "but the broader trend toward increased mobility is something that has been consistent and is something we continue to see in all of the work that we do."
One of the driving factors behind this trend, according to Smith, is convenience.
"There's something qualitatively different about cellphones in terms of convenience," he said.
What It Means for E-Commerce
The upshot of this survey for e-commerce businesses and anyone who reaches the public via the Web is that they must have mobile-friendly sites.
"There's a large number of potential customers who are not going to be accessing your services or site in a traditional big screen with a full keyboard and mouse," said Smith. "They're going to be accessing it when they're on-the-go, distracted, with a smaller screen and no keyboard -- or a virtual keyboard. That's a very different consumption experience. People are in a very different mindset when they're running around with their phone than they are when they're sitting at a computer."
Consumers want to be able to access information wherever they are and whenever they want, and often that means they're going to reach for their phones.
"People want easy access to information where they are -- they are not sitting at a laptop or a computer when they are out and about, which is most of the time," Jonathan Thaler, founder of When I'm Mobile, told the E-Commerce Times. "We have virtually unlimited Internet browsing as part of our data plans, and the browsers on our devices are very capable."
Many businesses, however, are not prepared for these mobile users. Their sites are still designed and directed toward computer screens and capabilities.
"At present, I'm afraid the typical Web experience on a mobile browser has a negative effect on e-commerce," said Thaler. "Nobody wants to have to enter 10 to 15 form boxes into a non-mobile Web page they can't even see properly. We are on the go, have little time and choppy bandwidth, and need to get in, get what we need and get out. Entering credit card information to a phone website is a juggling act at best. I do think business is being lost when the website is too difficult to use on a mobile device, which is still the case the vast majority of the time."
Becoming more mobile-friendly, in other words, is central to doing business in the 21st century.
"Understanding the importance of initiating the customer relationship with the mobile device, to continue and expand on that relationship when the customer is not at the computer, will position businesses at the forefront of mobile commerce," said Thaler. "Reliable and easy-to-use mobile payment systems, integrated seamlessly into the mobile browsing experience, are also necessary for m-commerce to proliferate."
In fact, the mobile version of a site might be even more important than the desktop one.
"Businesses who realize that the efforts put into an excellent mobile Web experience are as important as the main website -- more important, actually, since people have their phones with them far more of the time than they have computer access -- will be most ready for whatever the future holds for mobile," said Thaler.
"I don't think phone browsing will completely replace computer browsing," he said, "but an integrated Web strategy which enables website owners to be ready for the visits to their site regardless of how they get there, will provide both the audience and the business with the best opportunities to engage and transact."