Recently, there has been a spate of networks releasing the 4G technology to speed-hungry mobile users. By the end of 2013, 4G will be available in London and 12 other cities including Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. Soon, superfast mobile networks will no longer be the privilege of EE customers, but how will this impact retailers?
What is the need for speed?
Speed is the essence of 4G. Promising data speeds equivalent to a standard broadband internet connection, the technology has been predicted to supercharge mobile internet connections across the UK and parts of Europe in 2013.
So why is the switchover from the slower 3G connection to 4G often compared to the nation’s switchover from dialup to broadband back in 2005? Simply put, the speed offered with broadband was 10 times faster than that of its slower predecessor, the same difference that 4G offers to mobile consumers. The absolute success of broadband’s rollout can be seen in the government’s target of 95% of UK premises having access to “superfast” broadband (30Mbps+) by 2017.
The main reason for the broadband switchover was falling prices and greater publicity around the technology, which networks may need to replicate to increase the 1.5% of UK smartphone users in the UK currently using 4G. While this low level of take-up is only after eight months of 4G being available on only one network, there’s still a long way to go for the technology to follow in the footsteps of the broadband switchover.
The evolution of 4G
With faster internet speeds and a better all-round browsing experience, more and more shoppers would be keen to turn to their 4G-enabled devices to help them through their multichannel purchase journey. Whether that’s to read customer reviews, check product descriptions or compare prices, if there’s the technology there to make the process quicker, then consumers are likely to lead the way for early adoption.
The improved performance provided by 4G would also speed up the actual purchasing experience for mobile users, meaning mobile payments could see a significant increase. It will make the immediate delivery of time sensitive information much more of a reality, which is a huge area of importance for payment transactions.
However, according to a recent report from Ofcom, there’s reason not to be too optimistic about the uptake of 4G. The report suggests that just under a quarter of UK smartphone users have no intention of signing up to 4G due to being unsure of the benefits and many may well have been put off by jargon. The report shows that consumers are resisting uptake, most likely because people aren’t being made aware of the benefits.
Earlier this year, research conducted by eBay indicated that an item is bought through a mobile device every second and 55% of more Brits are shopping through mobile devices in 2013 than there were in 2012. What’s more, it was predicted that 4G would increase UK mobile retail by a staggering £1.8 billion over twelve months.
Research proves that there is no shortage of consumers purchasing on their mobiles and that this is growing at a considerable rate. However, if 4G isn’t being publicised correctly or consumers don’t understand how 4G can enhance their mobile experience in comparison to its predecessor 3G, then the likelihood is that they won’t take it up.
So what does this mean for retailers?
The introduction of 4G has the potential to boost the British retail sector by an estimated £1.8 billion by 2014, but as with any mass-wide adoption of technology, consumers must feel they ‘need’ the technology enough to pay the extra costs and the differences it can make to their online shopping experience.
The benefits of adopting 4G for consumers are abundant: faster mobile internet speeds, reduced frustration caused by unreliable internet access and a shorter time to checkout. With analysts predicting a 113% surge in mobile shopping by this time next year, the potential benefits for UK retailers are clear.
With 4G providing a faster data connection, retailers can reduce the emphasis they put on the speed of the website and concentrate on providing a better, more interactive user experience. The additional speed affords retailers an opportunity to capture sales from the browsing consumer because they can present them with more content and a quicker user experience, enabling the purchasing decision to be made in less time. 47% of consumers expect a website to load in two seconds or less. 4G will meet this expectation and remove the frustrations of waiting for pages to load, which is the number one cause for people abandoning their shopping baskets.
What makes a good user experience in retail?
The fast speeds and increased reliability that 4G affords will certainly bring advantages, but mobile retailers still need to stick to the basic principles for creating a good user experience.
When viewing and interacting with websites using a mobile phone, the key is simplicity. The site should open relatively quickly and seamlessly flow from top to bottom. In as much as is possible, it is of vital importance that the user’s experience is not sacrificed when browsing a site using a mobile phone. For example, there should be little or no requirement to pinch and zoom to view content. A mobile optimised site should ensure that any media content, particularly video, is compatible with the native functionality of the handset
Clarifying the objectives for optimising a site for mobile is particularly important and relevant to the retail sector. Are they the same objectives as the main website? For example, is the particular retail mobile optimised site designed to enable purchasing, or is it more focused on displaying the goods on offer – like a mobile shopping window. If it is built to enable purchasing of products or services directly, then the average time to order a product or make a booking needs to be as quick as possible. Retailers need to clearly define the use cases before delivering a mobile-optimised website or app.
Joining the Fourth Generation
Despite an initial hesitancy among consumers, EE announced recently that it had added 500,000 customers during the third quarter of 2013. Now, with most of the top networks offering a competitive package on superfast speeds, it will be the brands that adopt this new technology the soonest that will have the competitive advantage.
Brands need to embrace this mobile evolution and make sure that their entire end-to-end customer journey across all channels is set for 4G mobile. The key for retailers looking to take advantage of this opportunity is to ensure they have a mobile site or app that is fit for purpose: easy to browse, engaging, and most importantly, encouraging for consumers to make their purchase.