woman using smartphone

By Bill Brunelle

Mobile commerce has stormed onto the marketplace like a beast in recent years, with new devices, new apps, and new operating systems seemingly popping up every week. Consumers are making the most of retail’s newest channel by using their mobile devices to search for businesses, research products and even make purchases. It’s a beast that is only expected to grow stronger, which means it’s time for small businesses to tame mobile.

In 2014, Google found that out of the four-in-five people who search for information about local businesses online, 88 percent are using their smartphones. These searches aren’t just getting shoppers to the stores; they’re getting people actually to make purchases via their mobile devices, as well. In 2014, retail revenue from mobile topped more than 56 billion dollars in the U.S. Perhaps more important, this revenue will likely grow to nearly 150 billion dollars a year by 2019.

Going mobile-friendly will also help your business reach those consumers via their searches. In April, Google changed up its algorithm to allow mobile-friendly websites to populate higher in search results than non-mobile sites. Until you migrate to mobile, you could be missing out on the growing number of consumers who are searching online for local businesses.

Whereas it was once enough to have a basic website and maybe a social media profile, making the most of mobile requires businesses to do more. Consumers expect to see things a little differently on their mobile devices, and they may very well be looking for different things altogether in their searches on mobile devices. For example, if they’re on the go, they’ll need to know the location of your business, and when it’s open. If they’re already in the store when they search, they’re probably looking for any last-minute deals or coupons. If they haven’t left their house yet, they might want to see reviews for your business or a phone number they can call to ask a question.

No matter what they’re looking for, it’s important first and foremost for your business to get on mobile. Fortunately, going mobile doesn’t necessarily mean you have to start from scratch with your website, and it shouldn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money.

Optimize your website for mobile

Traditional websites tend to load slowly or incompletely on mobile devices, and their layout may not adapt well to the smaller screens. When consumers search on their smartphones or tablets, you’ll want them to land on your mobile website rather than a desktop site. Mobile websites tend to have simpler navigation and easy access to the information consumers need most, like a link to a store locator tool and the option to use their current location when searching for your brick and mortar.

There are essentially two choices when it comes to optimizing your website. You can create – or hire someone to create – a mobile version of your existing website, or you can do a complete website redesign to make your current site “responsive.” Responsive means that your site will “respond” to whatever platform a searcher is using and adapt to fit their device and screen best. A responsive website could run several thousands of dollars at a web design agency, but tools like Mobify and the WordPress Mobile Pack allow you to create a mobile presence without investing in a total redesign.

Get on mobile search engines

When consumers are looking for information on the go, whether it’s the nearest hardware store or the best restaurant in their vacation destination, it makes sense that they’d be looking at their mobile devices. Once they find what they’re looking for, they’ll likely need directions to that location. For these reasons, it’s important for local businesses to appear on mobile search engines and maps.

To boost your chances of appearing in a consumer’s search, make sure to list your business in the directories they use to find businesses on the go. For example, apps like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and the Independent We Stand mobile app help users find information about the businesses around them. Similarly, Google My Business and Apple Maps Connect can help you list your business on popular navigation tools. Claim your business or create a new listing on these platforms to reach new audiences on mobile.

Smartphones and tablets provide a new opportunity to local businesses to connect with on-the-go audiences looking for products and services in their communities. Mobile commerce probably won’t replace brick-and-mortar revenue, at least not anytime soon, but there’s no doubt that it’s becoming increasingly important for businesses to be ready for mobile traffic.

Bill Brunelle is co-founder of Independent We Stand, a cause marketing campaign co-sponsored by STIHL and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which is dedicated to educating communities about the importance and strong economic benefits of supporting locally owned businesses. Independent We Stand inspires small business owners across the country to celebrate their locally owned status and help consumers understand the importance of supporting them. For more information follow at @IndWeStand.