Shopping is the newest frontier on the mobile web. I’m not talking about downloadable content like ringtones and games, but real merchandise purchased using your phone and delivered by UPS or FedEx to your home or office. There aren’t many online retailers selling on the mobile web yet. Ebay and Amazon are there and so are Overstock, 1-800-Flowers and outdoor gear seller Moosejaw, but that’s about it.
Ordering and paying online is relatively complex with a fair bit of text entry required making it harder to adapt to the tiny screen and mobile text entry methods than more passive online activities. Still, I think if the ease of use is there people will shop using their phones. I envision the mobile web being used for impulse purchases, shopping at work where online shopping is often restricted and using mobile shopping sites for price comparison while shopping in brick and mortar stores. Mobile web shopping may not reach the level of PC based online shopping for a while but can be profitable today for business that deliver a superior user experience.
One of the better mobile shopping sites I’ve seen is mPoria Mall (mPoria.mobi), which works a little like Yahoo Shopping. You do a search and are offered a choice of items from partner stores, some of which are well known establishments like Buy.com and GameStop but others are small merchants similar to Yahoo StoreFronts. mPoria has made the service affordable to small business with the service starting at $70/month. All the stores are built and hosted by mPoria. The Mall is a full fledged shopping center with all sorts of merchandise from books to clothing and jewelery.
The site is quite well designed with small fast loading pages and wizard-style navigation. There are some nice touches to enhance usability. Accesskeys (numeric shortcuts) provide one key menu selection and text fields use the input-format attribute to force the phone keypad to numeric mode for items like phone number and zipcode. Instead of entering your shipping and billing address you can enter a landline phone number and mPoria does a reverse lookup to fill in the address. This only works for listed numbers of course, but it’s handy for shipments to a work address, for example. Context-sensitive help is available on all screens.
According to mPoria’s Matthew Spence, there’s a redesign coming next month that will fix a couple of areas where usability is less than ideal. Currently you have to click each result in the search listings to see item prices and you have to start the checkout process to find shipping costs – neither of which are conductive to comparison shopping. In the new release prices will be shown in the initial results list and shipping cost will be easier to access.
mPoria supports both credit cards and Paypal, although not all the partner stores currently accept Paypal. Until we get the sort of smart wallet features in our phones that the Japanese and Koreans have had for years, Paypal or Google Checkout are the most user friendly of available mobile payment methods thanks to their all numeric sign-in.
I urge anyone working in m-commerce to look at mPoria for some good examples of how to maximize the usability of this kind of site.
mPoria.mobi (xhtml-basic) Content: Usability: