The Wrong Way to Describe the Difference between Apples and Orangutans


‘What’s your mobile strategy’ is not the right question

Lumping smartphones and tablets together in the same category is hazardous. Marketers need to stop thinking of these two as as twin siblings. Rather, we should consider them what they are: second cousins once removed. Yes, they belong to the extended mobile family, but the shared characteristics do not justify a single strategy for both.

What do Apples and Orangutans have in common?

They share some DNA. Both are made up of mitochondria. But without getting into a Biology lesson, we can safely say the similarities end there.

So what do smartphones and tablets have in common? They share the ability to function wirelessly. Often they share the same operating system. Both can fit into a purse or large breast pocket. Both have screens that are usually responsive to the human touch. Again, it would be safe to say the similarities end at this point.

Yet we continue to lump these two very different things into this arbitrary category that we call “mobile.” Doing so is a disservice to the needs of each.

Forcing smartphones and tablets under the same umbrella is making our jobs as marketers unnecessarily aggravating. This is clearly demonstrated by looking at three major factors that make a new approach to smartphones a strategic imperative: conversion rates, email open rates, and user frustration.

Conversion Rates

By simply looking at conversion results, we see right away how the tablet has much more in common with the desktop environment than the smartphone.

The smartphone conversion rate is one-third of the tablet conversion rate. But at the same time, we are all experiencing increased traffic percentages from smartphones – an interesting and challenging paradox.

Let’s find a solution to this puzzle by putting ourselves in the shoes of a consumer.

When we use a smartphone, we truly are mobile. We are out in the world with all the distractions we would expect while we walk, talk, meet and (heaven forbid) drive.

We are hearing a lot of noise, but we can’t really listen to any of it. We see thousands of images, but we can’t watch anything for very long. We may be apt to click, but our attention span is less likely to withstand the kind of meaningful engagement that leads to a conversion.

From a contextual perspective, when we consider why traffic from smartphones is high, but conversion rates are low, it all makes perfect sense.

Not addressing this properly is a major lost opportunity for retailers and pure plays.

Open Rates

To compound this surge in smartphone traffic, the open rates for emails are also skyrocketing on smartphones.

Why? Once again, think about context.

As we navigate our busy days, our always-connected culture lets us open the same promotional email in vastly different scenarios. We could be sitting on the train, walking to the office, or even having dinner with friends.

While this “on any time” access is positive in many ways, it starts to decrease the click through rates of one of the most effective promotional vehicles a brand has for driving ecommerce: email.

In the same way that we have limited visual real estate on the smartphone to make a customer impact, we have limited bandwidth and attention of the customer when they open an email from their smartphone.

User Experience

Lastly, there is the omnipresent element of user experience. When we think about our experience with smartphone browsing, this usually amounts to “user frustrations.”

As users, we are incredibly impatient when we engage with technology. We might wander around a store for a half hour looking for the right aisle, eschewing help from a sales associate. Put a smartphone in our hands and our patience lasts but seconds.

If we can’t find what we are looking for in a few clicks or swipes, we leave the site or jump into the next distraction that waits in the busy moment. While many have already addressed small font sizes or impossible-to-click buttons through responsive design, it’s the challenge of trying to put a warehouse of options into a small one-column screen that creates user fatigue today.

Endless swiping, an infinite selection, and our impatience do not combine well to give the smartphone a chance to convert visitors.

Begin Executing on a Winning Smartphone Strategy with these Two Tips

While all the answers can’t be solved here, we can provide you with two important tips to get started. These suggestions are designed to help win back the conversion rate on smartphones and create more sales from that high email open traffic.

1) Provide Consumers with Smart Recommendations

Remember the analogy we used to illustrate the differences between smartphones and tablets? Let’s go back to it for a second. The orangutan has multiple branches from which to swing. The apple is limited to one.

With just a tiny window of size and opportunity, the real estate on smartphones has postage-stamp limitations. Smartphones do not offer marketers the luxury of a broad landscape to support numerous merchandising areas.

In the smartphone environment, you are given a single column viewing area. As marketers, this means we have one shot to get it right. Displaying each item individually is critical.

So how do we make that one shot win? We leverage technology to maximize the utility of this limited space.

User History + Machine Learning Algorithms = True Personalized Recommendations.

Dated product-centric recommendations working off of averages are currently the industry norm. Consumers can feel how this is not really personalization. When a visitor is constantly inundated with irrelevant recommendations, they definitely do not feel like their intrinsic interests are part of the equation.

True personalized recommendations deliver on-target content (offers and products) that capitalize on what each user has expressed in their unique browsing and purchasing history. Rather than forcing eCommerce consumers to swim through a sea of irrelevance, their experiences are centered around highly targeted recommendations that come closer to addressing real needs and interests. This is especially important when dealing with smaller screens where real estate is limited.

2) Offer Personalized Search

While using a smartphone, we rely heavily on search, even more than when working with a desktop. It’s logical. The assortment we have to view is extremely limited on smartphones and we are constantly seeking a way to navigate to what is most relevant to our immediate needs.

Instead of employing the best search functionality possible, most smartphone search results are generic alphabetic and phrase lookup.

The search query returns a huge list of results that once again exacerbates the challenge of the smaller viewing real estate and subsequently fatigues the user, who ends up in abandonment. No wonder conversion rates are so low.

Employing personalized search provides two distinct advantages.

Type ahead search simplifies and predicts what the user wants to see. As consumers, this means we can find what we’re looking for very quickly. It also speeds up our overall experience and makes it more intuitive.

Similar to personalized recommendations, the results are based off individual user browsing and shopping history. This brings us targeted merchandised selections that uniquely relates to each consumer.

By personalizing search on smartphones, we eliminate the fatiguing burden our shoppers face when sorting through long lists of off target, irrelevant products.


Smartphones are a prized and valued channel. By approaching them as an afterthought that gets thrown hand me downs, marketers will always face a major conversion challenge. It is time for this growing channel to be given the respect it is due and to provide it with the resources to succeed.

By moving beyond “the mobile strategy” and understanding that smartphones and tablets have about as much in common as apples and orangutans, marketers are already ahead of the curve. Making the changes outlined here could be a positive next step.

The good news is that many leading brands have already begun this necessary transformation and are seeing results.


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