Are You Tracking the Right Smartphone Conversion Metrics?

January 17, 2014 Herbert Lui

This post was co-authored with Shan Lian.

Despite a consistent increase in mobile traffic, conversion rates remain low for smartphone devices. While 35% of all retail purchases occur on mobile, according to Marketing Charts, 65% of those transactions take place on tablet devices. Does that mean smartphones are a lost cause for retailers?

Definitely not. Traditional conversion metrics are just not enabled to capture new types of consumer purchasing behaviors associated with mobile usage. The transition from path-to-purchase to omnichannel purchasing is just one symptom of how mobile technology has changed the way consumers make purchasing decisions. Let’s take a look at some of the others and how they affect conversion.

“Micro Session” Behavior

As this study highlights, the average consumer checks their smartphone upwards of 30 times every day. Visits tend to be shorter, isolated, and more reward-based versus traditional desktop visitations which are longer, immersive, and continuous.

There are three factors driving these types of micro session visits:

  • Urgency. When consumers require a product or information immediately, they turn to their smartphones. This is why flash sale retailers often have higher than average smartphone conversion rates – consumers have no other choice but to buy on their phones when a time-sensitive sale happens.

  • Seeking information. Consumers are looking for last minute information to reinforce their purchasing decision – such as price comparison, product reviews, and information on quality.

  • Pre-shopping and passing time. This is the biggest factor for increasing total traffic and engagement minutes without leading to conversion. Despite not facilitating transactions on the mobile device, this is a great opportunity for retailers to show off their merchandise.

How this Affects Traditional Metrics

These types of micro session behaviors are why metrics designed for measuring conversion rates on desktops do not translate well for mobile devices. The total number of purchases remain constant while the amount of time spent and user traffic are driven up through incremental visits, thus resulting in a lower conversion rate.

Traditional E-commerce Conversion Metric:

Total Purchase / Total Traffic = Conversion Rate

Smartphone’s Effect on Traditional Metric:

Total Purchase / Total Traffic = Conversion Rate

So where is all this smartphone traffic going?

They are converting to future sales – most often on another device. Micro session visits are opportune moments for brands to showcase products, drive impulse purchases, and profile consumers to prompt a return to purchase in the near future (online and especially in-store).

More importantly, these repeated micro sessions on smartphones contribute to easier conversions on PC or tablet later, typically with larger basket sizes. Much like how mobile heavily influences in-store performance, it also serves as a catalyst to e-commerce performance.

Update Metrics for Mobile

In order to accurately measure smartphone influence and define where dollars should be spent to increase relevant conversions, here are four new metrics to consider:

  1. How many customers started their basket on smartphones and returned on another device to purchase?

  2. What is the average time between a smartphone visit and a return visit on another device for purchasing?

  3. What is the difference in basket size for customers who started pre-shopping on smartphones vs. another device?

  4. How many “micro session” visits does it take before a customer returns to purchase?

Closing Thoughts

Traditional conversion metrics are no longer enough to capture how smartphone really contributes to ROI. Consumer behaviors on smartphones are much shorter, more isolated and more reward-based – driving up total traffic but not as much increase in total purchase. However, this behavior results in future purchasing in-store or on another device, with faster turnover rates and larger basket size. Therefore, it is essential to find the truly critical smartphone conversion metrics that retailers should be optimizing on.

About the Author


Chad Fowler, Empathy
Chad Fowler, Empathy… Read more

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