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Mobile Commerce: Should Revenue Really Be Your Metric?


Two young women looking at a phone

This is an interesting time for mobile commerce.

It wasn’t too long ago that mobile was used mainly for texting, checking email, and getting directions. The thought of using your phone for research or a transaction was a bit absurd… kind of like the idea of a driverless car.

Nowadays, mobile accounts for about half of all online traffic—and for some of our clients, it accounts for more than half.

Still, when it comes to online sales, only about a quarter comes from mobile, according to industry estimates. (That’s consistent with the numbers from our own client base.)

The million-dollar question for mobile

There’s little doubt that the percentage of revenue that comes from mobile sales will only continue to grow.

UX designers continue to make it easier for us to complete transactions online, and the kids who grew up with smartphones—the ones most comfortable using them for all sorts of activities, from playing games to messaging with friends—will soon have credit cards of their own. Scary thought.

But at this point in time, as mobile still struggles to find customers who are willing to ride the funnel all the way through, I wonder why we continue to use revenue as our KPI.

There’s a missed opportunity here, but it requires us to shift our sights from cash to CX.

How customers use mobile

The heart of this issue lies in how people are using their mobile devices for retail websites.

According to Think with Google, customers use (or are inclined to use) mobile to:

  • Find a store near them
  • Research a purchase they’re about to make in the store
  • Begin their shopping journey (and end it in the store)
  • Check store inventory

This is the nature of mobile right now: Shoppers use their phones to browse items and gather information—but when they’re ready to buy, they’ll do it in the store or on their laptop.

The Think with Google article taps into something essential—the importance of connecting with your customers during the so-called micro-moments, whether they’re wanting to:

  • Learn about a product
  • Compare prices
  • Add an item to the cart (digitally or literally)

In other words, intent is opportunity. If you can determine why visitors are coming to your mobile site, you can create an experience that gives them what they need, when they need it.

If revenue isn’t our metric, what is?

Once we focus on customer intent, we can begin to identify metrics that measure success.

What I’m really talking about is engagement—indications that customers’ goals are being met, the experience is pleasant and friction-free and, ultimately, that they’re moving toward making a purchase in a way that is ideal for them.

Maybe you’ve experienced something like this before: You create two or more versions of your mobile product pages and run a split test. Revenue is your metric and, much to your disappointment, the results are flat.

But what if your metric was product page views? And version B shows an increase of 17 percent? That’s one way to measure engagement, as is:

  • Time on page
  • Number of return visitors
  • Frequency of visits over a defined period of time
  • Search function use

One useful framework for choosing the right engagement metrics is described in an article by a user experience researcher at YouTube and Google. Kerry Rodden explains their process of defining goals (for example, having users enjoy videos and discover more channels), then mapping those goals to lower-level signals (for example, time spent watching a video).

Kerry notes that it’s important to determine how success or failure in your goal will actually manifest itself in user behavior.

Focus on creating challengers that encourage browsing, interaction, and purchasing where and when the time is right. Etsy does a good job of making their items easy to find, filter, and save for future viewing or purchase.

etsy mobile screenshot

Then take a risk and run some tests that aren’t focused on revenue but engagement.Tweet_this

We’re not there yet

I should point out that Taylor Wilson, our senior analyst, thinks that revenue is the right KPI for mobile, as long as you have the traffic.

The main hurdle we face is that it’s still a big challenge to track purchases across devices and channels.

If a visitor is browsing on her phone, finds what she’s looking for, and goes to the store to buy the item, we may not be able to track that, unless she was logged into her account across channels.

“The goal at the end of the day is that engagement drives revenue,” Taylor says, “and I don’t think it’s possible today to track that easily.”

No doubt we’ll have easy access to this data before long. But even if we’re not there yet, we should focus our efforts on understanding the customer journey and connecting with customers at crucial moments.

In fact, the Think with Google article notes that omni-channel shoppers spend more.

According to MasterCard, customers who shop both online and off with a specific retailer buy 250% more on average. Macy’s discovered that its omni-channel shoppers are 8X more valuable than those who shop in a single channel.

So let’s put our creativity to use and rethink how we measure mobile success.

Suzi Tripp headshotSuzi Tripp the senior director of experimentation strategy, leading testing strategy for clients such as Barnes & Noble, Toys R Us, and Comcast Xfinity. Since joining Brooks Bell, Suzi has helped deepen the company’s strategic methodology, applying it across industries to develop winning tests for clients.


Brooks Bell helps top brands profit from A/B testing, through end-to-end testing, personalization, and optimization services. We work with clients to effectively leverage data, creating a better understanding of customer segments and leading to more relevant digital customer experiences while maximizing ROI for optimization programs. Find out more about our services.