The Rise of the Mobile Internet

Back in December 2009 when analysts at Morgan Stanley predicted that mobile internet would overtake desktop internet within five years, many people were sceptical - bearing in mind this was before Apple had even brought the first tablet to the market.

As radical as Morgan Stanley’s predictions seemed, time has proved them to actually be on the conservative side, certainly for the UK market. Taking one of our large ecommerce websites as a case study, the first time desktop usage was surpassed by mobile (smartphone and tablet) was immediately after Christmas in 2013, a full year earlier than predicted.

The pattern we see every year is a significant surge in mobile traffic immediately after Christmas. This is as a direct result of the number of mobile devices being given as presents and coming into use at Christmas time. The following graph shows the stepped increase in phone and tablet traffic at the end of December each year – ignoring the spikes in traffic, concentrate on the gap between ‘all sessions’ and ‘mobile sessions’ which becomes noticeably smaller each year.

Desktop usage has been in steady decline over the last number of years. For the first time, during the 2014 Christmas period, it dropped to an all-time low, now accounting for less than 1/3 of all traffic to the site.

While traffic and engagement from mobile is increasing, an issue common to ecommerce sites is the resistance of consumers to pay for goods using their mobile devices (particularly smartphones).  Consumers are generally comfortable using their phones for research, but there is a tendency to go back to their desktops to complete the purchase.

This means that while traffic is now predominantly from mobiles, only a small percentage of sales are. This phenomenon can be seen in our analytics where in 2011, smartphone usage accounted for 11% of site traffic, while only 1% of purchases were made on a phone (9% of what should be expected).

Barriers preventing customers from purchasing from their smartphones range from difficulty in filling in a form on a small device through to lack of trust in credit card security on a mobile device. According to Our Mobile Planet 48% of users did not trust credit card security on a smartphone in 2013.


However, as consumers become more comfortable using the mobile internet, and retailers optimise their checkout journeys to work better for mobile, these barriers are being broken down. Even on high value items, which have historically been the most unlikely items that a consumer would purchase using a phone.

Phone now accounts for 29.74% of all site traffic and 12.24% of all purchases are being completed on mobile phones. While this is only 41% of what should be expected, it has increased from just 9% in 2011. There is still a long way to go in addressing the imbalance, but the gap is beginning to close.

Attitudes to the mobile internet are changing rapidly – a few years ago consumers were content to browse the internet on their phones, but they’re increasingly used to sites being optimised for mobile and now expect this as the norm.

They demand sites to be mobile and touch friendly, usable without too much scrolling or zooming, and fast to load. Above all they expect to be able to do on their phones what they can on a computer. And if they can’t navigate a site easily from a mobile, they will go somewhere else.

Google have recognised that sites that aren’t mobile-friendly are frustrating to users and they recently announced the addition of a “mobile-friendly” label to mobile search results. They are also said to be experimenting with using this label as a ranking signal, which could push non mobile-friendly sites lower down on search results.

Mobile touch technology is one of the fastest growing and most disruptive technologies we have ever seen and the landscape of how consumers interact with the internet is transforming before our eyes. The state of the mobile internet today presents a stark warning to retailers and businesses whose sites aren’t fully optimised for mobile - they’re running the risk of losing customers and not being able to tap into this emerging market of mobile-savvy users.

At True, we are leaders in building mobile optimised sites and online shops that work seamlessly across multiple devices. We can build mobile sites using multiple techniques including RWD (Responsive Web Design), Adaptive, RESS (Responsive with Server Side Components) as well as dedicated mobile sites. We have also applied responsive skins to legacy sites using a combination of the above techniques, without the need for a full-scale redesign of the site.