man looking at a cellphone outdoors
PHOTO: James Sutton

Companies have been looking to improve the mobile customer experience ever since the first smartphone debuted. Yet, according to many experts and customers, most firms are still falling far short of excellent, or even good, mobile CX.

Companies are falling short for a variety of reasons.

“While there is still much progress to be made, the mobile customer experience has evolved significantly in the past 12 months as more and more companies realize that consumers are demanding the ability to have a profound, efficient and personalized experience via the mobile world,” said Antonia Hock, global head of the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. “Those companies who are struggling are developing apps that are over-engineered — complex for the sake of just packing in ‘features.’ Consumers become frustrated by the inability to execute simple tasks and abandon the experience all-together. Shockingly, the landscape is still littered with apps that are unreliable and inefficient — again leading consumers to de-install an app and potentially consider a competitor.”

Poor Mobile Cart Conversion

For retailers, mobile remains one of the most troublesome channels for customer acquisition and cart conversion, said Peter Sheldon, Adobe senior director of strategy. “Despite roughly 50 percent of web traffic coming from mobile devices, conversion rates remain stubbornly lower than purchases made via desktop or native applications. Mobile shopping is skyrocketing and retailers are still struggling to boost conversion rates and create engaging cross-channel experiences.”

Sheldon added that retailers could improve mobile CX by using Progressive Web Apps (PWAs), which enable merchants and developers to build fast ‘app-like’ web experiences that boost online conversions and enhance in-store experiences.

“It’s redefining mobile experiences and customer interactions with brands through mobile devices by making shopping faster, more engaging and personal,” Sheldon said.

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Mobile Is Part of a Bigger Strategy

Many companies do not succeed in mobile because they treat it as a separate entity and fail to incorporate it into their core product, said Rebecca Wang, assistant professor of marketing at Lehigh University. “They also have unrealistic goals, believing that mobile is going to revolutionize the entire company. In fact, mobile is simply an additional channel for customers to engage with a brand, so every fundamental, so-called ‘traditional’ marketing principle and action will still apply. Especially with a branded app, which is different from a paid app, the goal is not to get revenue or promote the app itself. Rather, it is an engagement, customer retention tool."

Wang added that customers are getting harder to please because their expectations of technologies have increased over time. Competition is also getting fiercer — there is only so much time and attention a customer has, and a smartphone's home screen is only so big.

“Due to the limited screen real estate, the mobile experience has to be fast and to the point,” Wang said. “Technology-wise, it should match a customer's expectations —for instance, if a picture can zoom on a PC website, it should have the same functionality on a mobile website or app as well.”

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Companies Leading the Way With Mobile CX

That’s not to say there aren’t some companies offering excellent mobile CX. Hock pointed to Sephora and Nike.

“Both offer reliable, efficient apps that are geo-aware, and offer experiences that can only be 'unlocked' through the app for loyalty members,” Hock said. “The personalization, product recommendation engines, and search functionality are all strong. And, in the case of Nike, the seamless in-store technology experience is best-in-class. I was recently in the Nike store in New York, and I was able to scan the bar code on my items in the app, and order them to my fitting room within the app as well without any human intervention.”

Another retailer who offers an exceptional experience in their app is TheRealReal, Hock added. “Perhaps, it’s not as advanced with bells and whistles, but the simple, elegant navigation, and the reliable personalization and in-app ordering is fast, beautiful, and intuitive — delivering a great experience to every user.”

Wang cited Shutterfly, which has an app that highlights its core product. Additionally, the company has responsive customer service, with a tech hotline, and it responds to customers' complaints on app review sites.

“This is another level of customer engagement,” Wang said. “Amazon's mobile webpage is great, but its app is not as well designed. It may be a strategic choice on its part. In the early days, brands liked to create cute little games to promote their brand or products. While they were entertaining, they were not effective in boosting sales or long-term loyalty. Later on, CPG companies created loyalty programs with their apps. That's great, but execution is key.”