Mobile ecommerce copywriting 2013

We put stickers on them. We buy special cases for them. We attach dongles to them. We play on them. We have special pockets sewn into our running jackets to hold them. We press them to our cheeks. We cradle them in one hand while tickling their little bellies with the other. We keep them in our laps when we’re watching TV, and we love them so much we have to be reminded to shut them off in a movie.

Of course I’m talking about our mobile devices. In particular, smartphones.

You came here to learn about mobile ecommerce copywriting. Anyone will tell you that writing a mobile ecommerce site is hard. There’s the tiny screen situation. And the unknown context situation. And the short attention span situation. And the challenge of filling in forms situation.

But let’s be real: A mobile phone is a flat little box of emotion.

It’s the perfect canvas for a savvy retailer to do exceptionally well. After all, the sales / purchase process is a wildly emotional one. What better place to position your message – and your product – than within that 480×320 or 60×120 screen your prospect treats as an extension of themselves?

Here’s how to write your mobile ecommerce site without fretting so much about the lack of space.

First Things First: Do You Even Need a Distinct Mobile Ecommerce Site?

Over 80% of people can get past a negative mobile site experience, but 40% to 61% are likely to check out a competitors’ site if your mobile site is crud. Unless your strategy is to hope people will cope with you or to drive visitors to your competitors, you need a mobile-friendly view for your visitors.

As Bridget and Kristina of Distilled point out here, you’ve got 3 options when it comes to creating your mobile-friendly site:

1. Use a responsive design for your primary / desktop site. If you have a responsive site – as we do for – the content on your site will adapt to different screen sizes. So you don’t have to build a distinct site for mobile devices. But here’s the downside: you’re serving up content meant for web users, not mobile users, and the differences in needs, expectations, available time, and more between web users and mobile users is significant – so why treat them similarly?

Responsive themes save on mobile copywriting(

2. Serve content dynamically. Based on factors you define, serve content meant for X device dynamically to users. Essentially, you have a base site experience that adapts and changes for everyone, whether they’re on their desktop – which is normally the default – on an iPad Mini or on their Samsung Galaxy S4.

3. Create a distinct mobile site. This is a mobile-specific site, often created in HTML5, that appears as something like, or When we’re talking about writing a mobile ecommerce site, this is what we’re talking about. Here’s a pretty classic example, found at

Henry's mobile ecommerce site

If your website isn’t responsively designed and you are not serving content dynamically, you should create a distinct mobile site.


Because, like it or lump it, most of the people who can afford to buy your product – your real prospects – are using their mobile devices to do far more than play games. According to this study, smartphone usage grew 81% last year and tablets are generating 2.4 times more mobile traffic than smartphones. And this study found that 67% of adult cellphone users check their phones for messages even when the phone isn’t vibrating while nearly 50% sleep with their phone next to their bed.

So, yeah, mobile’s kinduv a big deal. Like lice, termites and the Tea Party, it’s sortuv the exactly wrong thing to keep ignoring in the hopes it will go away.

Admittedly, of course, people are still using their laptops like crazy to complete purchases and do in-depth research, as Google reported here. But PCs don’t exist in a vacuum. They are just one screen in a multi-screen product discovery and acquisition process. In fact, Google found that 31% of people who start shopping on their phone email themselves a link to continue / complete shopping on a larger device.

Mobile sites stats consumers

Your analytics can help you better understand how important mobile is to your business by showing you the devices used to complete paid conversions in your cart. If a semi-significant (whatever that looks like to you) percentage of your conversions happen on mobile devices, then you can assume that more mobile visitors may intend to buy from you.

If you’re trying to grow your business – and, really, who isn’t? – then putting some time, effort and, yes, a bit o’ cash into an optimized mobile site can only help you reach your goals… by helping your visitors reach their goals on their devices.

(If you use Shopify or Magento, check this sexy solution out for your mobile site.)

The Least Obvious (But Actually Super-Obvious) Place to Start When Creating Your Mobile Ecommerce Site

Don’t start with your desktop site. Please. Your mobile site is not a baby version of your desktop site; it’s not the kid sister that wears hand-me-down pants with the cuffs rolled up to ‘fit’. Do not start your mobile site with your desktop site. That’s rule number one.

So where do you start? In everything we do as startup founders and marketers, we’ve really got 2 options for starting points:

1.    Start with what we want our users to do

2.    Start with what our users want to do

The argument often goes that visitors – especially first-time visitors – don’t know what to do, so we marketers have to tell them. Our goals have to come first. But while that argument may fly in our stores and on our desktop sites, due to a legacy of behavior if not good sense, is it acceptable to think of our business goals first on a device like an iPhone?

Remember: A mobile phone is a flat little box of emotion.

Mobile is perhaps the first truly personal way to connect with your visitors, which presents amazing opportunities for us, opportunities we’ve been envying of bricks-and-mortar stores for some time. But, that said, a mobile phone is hardly a welcoming or forgiving space. Content consumption and rejection are swipably fast on touch screens. For a sense of how little time we have to grab our visitors on mobile sites, consider the number of micro-steps it takes to seek out content on a webpage on your desktop versus on your phone:


1.    Rest hand on mouse

2.    Navigate to scroll bar (or ensure your cursor is on the page)

3.    Click and hold (or use mouse track)

4.    Start pulling down to scroll

5.    Watch content move by slowly

6.    Release


1.    Rest fingertip on screen

2.    Swipe

3.    Watch content fly by





Yes, those are micro-steps, but they’re real micro-steps. And they add up.

Desktop experiences teach us to be remarkably more patient users than touchscreen interfaces do. This creates a harsh reality for copywriting for mobile ecommerce sites: you’ve got even antsier users with even itchier trigger-fingers, and it’s your job to try to give them what they want from your brand ASAP. Or they’re gone.

(To drive home the fear: according to this article, for every second your visitor has to wait for your page to load, your chances of converting them drop 7%.)

That is why, of course, you can’t create a mobile site around what you want your users to do, and you sure as hell can’t take the big ol’ image-filled site you’ve got and ‘mobilize’ it.

You have to start with what your visitors want to do in the exact moment that they want to do it – which should go without saying, given that there’s hardly a startup in existence that doesn’t know the sun rises and sets with the user. So let’s talk about how to do that.

If You’re Standing in Future Shop Looking at a Box of QuickBooks, Why Would You Go to the QuickBooks Mobile Site?

Context is everything. In the desktop world, we don’t have to worry much about context because, generally speaking, desktop users are at a physical desk, whether at work or at home; sometimes they’re on their laptops in airports or coffee shops, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

For mobile, the rule is that your visitor could be anywhere when they grace your mobile site with their presence. And even the sneakiest technology can’t tell if a user is visiting your mobile site from their phone while relaxing in a bubble bath or while running on the treadmill. Consumer products are particularly screwed here – but there are some pretty easy ways to start understanding the types of environments your mobile visitors are in.

The most obvious solution, of course, is to put a one-question survey on your mobile site that asks something like this:

Hi. Where are you right now?

Because data entry isn’t a mobile-appropriate activity, it probably won’t serve you well to use a text field when collecting responses to said survey. So you might want to do 2 layers of questions, like so:

Hi! Where are you right now?

o    A store
o    A coffee shop
o    Public transit
o    Home
o    School
o    Work
o    None of those places

[Selected Store]
Is it one of these stores?

o    Best Buy
o    Future Shop
o    Costco
o    WalMart
o    Target
o    No

NB: Phone apps are, of course, exceptionally good at reading ambient data and using that to serve context-specific content to users. So this survey could simply be a stop-gap while you explore an app, if that’s right for your biz.

Understanding the places your visitors are when they come looking for you will help you understand the type of content to serve to them and the sorts of messages to share with them. (Remember we’re talking ecommerce, not content marketing sites or social networks.)

Let’s take QuickBooks for an example because, when I was at Intuit, I worked on the mobile sites for the Global Business Division. Few people go to to browse or kill time while waiting for a movie; this isn’t a window-shopping sort of product (and the same can be true for most B2B solutions). We learned that mobile users were likely to be standing in a Best Buy store with boxes of QuickBooks and Sage in front of them when they decided to whip out their phones and look us up.

What might those prospects, standing in that store, have been seeking out?

Given that they’re holding or able to hold the box, which has product features and benefits listed on it, they might have been seeking:

  • Star ratings
  • Unbiased reviews on sites like CNET
  • Comparison charts for QuickBooks products
  • Comparisons of QuickBooks vs Sage
  • Details about QuickBooksOnline
  • Video demos
  • Online-only discounts
  • Coupons to use in-store

Think about your prospective customers. Why aren’t they on their computer? Should you make any assumptions about their needs based on the fact that they’re mobile and seeking you out? When they visit you from their smaller devices, what might their environment tell you about the sort of info they want from you? What content do they need to see immediately, and what can they wait to see?

When It Comes Time to Write Mobile Copy That Converts, Answer These 3 Questions First

Okay, so you’ve been invited onto someone’s highly personal screen – the place reserved for photos of their favorite people, music, books and some highly addictive apps – and you’ve got about a millisecond to prove to him or her that your ecommerce site is worth sticking around to check out.

Ask yourself these 3 questions, answering Yes to just one of them:

1.    Am I something they want to get? Do they browse for stuff like this often?

2.    Am I something they have to get but wouldn’t put at the top of a Wish List?

3.    Am I something they have to get right now?

The real question behind each of those is this: How much am I allowed to get in this person’s way? Most of the time, you’ll want to get the Helsinki outta their way – but there are cases where you don’t have to hop straight to the point.

If you are selling something they want to get – like the latest style of Converse high-tops – then you’ve got a bit of flexibility with how swiftly you move visitors into specific product pages. Entertainment and idea-generation, like cool content, can go a long way on mobile sites like these.

If you’re selling something they have to get but don’t necessarily desire – like a new water heater for their house or a consultation with a divorce lawyer – then get swiftly to the point. Their point. Not yours.

And if you’re selling something they have to get right this freakin’ second – like Tylenol – get out of their way. They don’t want to talk. They don’t want to be entertained.

Now, since we’re talking about mobile copy that converts, let’s define conversion for your mobile site.

Ticketmaster mobile siteDoes it make sense to expect your mobile ecommerce site to close sales? With highly motivated people, sure! Ticketmaster can close ticket sales on mobile devices 30 minutes before a concert starts, but do you have any reason to believe that visitors to your mobile site are quite so motivated? Do they absolutely need your ebook on Japanese gift-wrapping techniques right this second?

Right now, 1 in 10 ecommerce dollars is spent from a mobile device, but as intriguing as that number is, the flip side is that 9 in 10 dollars are not spent on mobile. People are starting to buy from their devices, but we’re not fully there yet – and your conversion goals shouldn’t be, either.

It’s likely that your mobile visitor is not ready to purchase today – and that’s okay. As Google found, we start our product or service research on a small device and move to a larger device nearly 3x as often as we start large and move to small. So we can assume that, by and large, your visitors on a smartphone are researching – and we need to make it easy for them to return to us on a large screen.

Small device copywriting

If the majority of your mobile visitors are, in fact, researching, a paid conversion goal doesn’t make sense, does it? Further, goals that require the user to type, such as an email list signup, may be too lofty for smartphone visitors.

Create conversion goals that are right for each device. Set more realistic goals for smartphone visitors:

  • Located store
  • Downloaded app
  • Called location
  • Shared with others
  • Sent email to self
  • Created account

And never forget that you can’t expect your visitors to do anything you don’t make extremely easy for them. (tweet this)

You Understand Context… You’ve Got the Right Goals… Now: How to Write for Tiny Screens

If you think people don’t read on the web, try mobile. Your mobile copy is going to be extremely spare on your entry pages. It’s not until visitors dig deeper into your site and arrive on product pages that you can and should do more to get your product into their cart.

Consider Leo Burnett’s classic line about copywriting, which I found somewhere online recently but can’t recall (apologies for not properly citing):

“Here’s what we’ve got. Here’s what it will do for you. Here’s how to get it.”

Burnett is promoting simple, clear and to-the-point messages – no messing about, no cleverness. For the best mobile copywriting, perhaps a better approach is this:

“Here’s what we’ve got. Here’s how to get it. Here’s what it will do for you.”

Notice what’s changed? The call to action comes much earlier. Keep that phrase alone in mind as you write each page of your mobile site.

From there, it’s a matter of great formatting, crisp word choice and easy to acquire targets. On the topic of targets:

•    Put your primary call to action about the fold on each and every screen

•    Any text links you use should be long enough that they’re easy to click

•    Use tall and wide form fields

•    Keep buttons at or larger than 50×50 pixels

•    Use jQuery to optimize touch / swipe functionality

•    Make sure things that look clickable are clickable

Also, keep in mind that short copy is far tougher to write than long copy. So don’t assume that just because you’re working on a short screen, you’ll only need 5 minutes to knock out your copy. The little copy that earns its way onto your mobile site needs to be optimized. (Learn more about headlines, formatting and buttons here.)

To boost conversions on your mobile site, try the following, based on better and tested practices:

•    Fill forms and minimize the need to type wherever possible

•    Serve content based on ambient data, such as your user’s location and time of day

•    Allow sign-in and account creation with Twitter and Facebook

•    Prepare for user interruption! Break tasks into small chunks that can be saved (

•    Encourage simple sign-ups and tell visitors they can add products to their cart or Wish List on their phones, sign in on their PC, and find those product preserved in their desktop cart

•    Replace tedious long descriptions on product pages with video demos, but use HTML5 standard tags to ensure more people are able to view it

•    Make it easy for people to email content to themselves for later

You may also wish to create mobile user-specific offers and incentives, especially in time for the holidays. Barnes and Noble does a great job of this; knowing that I am a mobile user and thus open to mobile devices, they present me with an offer for a Nook:

Barnes and Noble Ecommerce Site Incentive

On Moz, Bridget Randolph noted that you can use a combination of your mobile site and the mobile apps of larger players to offer incentives. Her example:

Use check-in and coupon services like Foursquare, Facebook, and Groupon. “Check in at our coffee shop on Foursquare, and next time we see you we’ll give you 10% off your order!” The added benefit of this approach is that it gives your business online visibility and social proof, as opposed to an app, which is effectively a “walled garden.”

A Checklist of Content Your Visitors May Need to See on Your Mobile Site

If you make a study of mobile sites – especially their home or landing pages – you’re bound to notice some of the same stuff across all of them. I have been making a study of them for quite some time, and I’ve compiled this checklist to help trigger some ideas as to what your visitors want to see; note that it would be uber-crazy to try to put all of these on one page, so try to select the content options that are more need-to-have than want-to-have for your visitors.

J Crew Mobile Site□    Site search

□    A simple global nav

□    A collapsed and expandable global nav

□    A stacked navigation (if you offer a large selection of products, like J Crew)

□    An explainer video

□    Button: Find a Store

□    Button: Browse Products (or a better equivalent)

□    Star ratings

□    User reviews, shortlist

□    User reviews, full list

□    A link to the desktop site (especially for returning visitors)

Finally, Things to Avoid on Your Mobile Site

Where would a post on mobile ecommerce copywriting be without a list of Don’ts? Check these Must Not Dos out – they’re not all copy-related – and then, if you’re a real keener, find more here

  • Anything iOS doesn’t like, like Flash and Cookies
  • An expanded top-mounted nav – put it below the fold, or collapse it
  • Frames and tables
  • Redirects from rich web pages to vague mobile pages
  • Interstitials to download apps
  • Big images and other large content that challenges data network speed
  • Trying to impress with fancy functionality and design – a clean UX is best
  • Calls to action that are too small to easily click or far below the fold
  • Asking users to switch to your mobile version; just redirect them there
  • Pop-ups and tools made for web interfaces – don’t fill the mobile screen with your requests for info
  • Coupon codes – try adding parameters to URLs to push discounts rather than asking visitors to type in a complex all-caps code

We’ve just scratched the surface today and will have more on this topic down the road. Have something to add? Want us to dig into a specific mobile question? Let’s hear your thoughts below!