If you really want to understand what makes m-commerce users convert, you’ve got to at least dip your toes into behavioral psychology. Understanding even the most basic principles might just change the way you approach app development.

Behavioral psych is simply the study of human behavior–why we do what we do.

Frameworks such as BJ Fogg’s behavioral model help us pick apart the specific elements in our app and why they do or don’t drive the certain user behaviors (like making purchases).

The Fogg behavioral model says that there are just 3 components that need to be present in order for any behavior to occur:

  1. Motivation – the user must have sufficient motivation
  2. Ability – the user must have the ability to complete the desired action
  3. Trigger – a trigger (cue) must be present to activate the behavior

Put simply. If a user has sufficient motivation and ability to complete an action, a trigger / cue will prompt the action to occur.

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I love the simplicity. I tend to get caught up in all these cool techniques and models people are using, but when it boils down to it, getting a user to convert is pretty darn simple. Even better, we can apply this to anything, whether it’s user onboarding, increasing retention, or getting users to register.

So when we apply the behavioral model to mobile conversions, we can easily map techniques back to the behavioral model. That is, the techniques increase motivation, ability, or provide a trigger.

In this post, we’ll break down different techniques you can use that either increase a user’s ability to convert or increase their motivation to complete the transaction.


Groupon’s Persistent CTA (Ability)

If users can’t easily find your CTA, the odds of them clicking it are pretty low. Even still, Groupon took this concept even further, ensuring that users will never have to go looking for the “Buy!” button.

Providing a persistent buy button on all product listings increases the ability for users to complete the action by making it brainless. They also provide an in-your-face (without being obtrusive) CTA that makes it simple for even the laziest of users.

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Amazon 1-Click Buy (Ability)

Mobile users are in a rush.

They want to get a task done and get it done right the hell now.

So what does Amazon do? They simply cut out the extra steps. Much like their web product, they utilize a “Buy now” button where users can purchase an item with just 1 click.

Amazon’s 1-click buy makes it easy to complete, without having to enter and confirm shipping information, drastically increasing the ability of users to convert.


Optimize Your Results Page (Ability)

When displaying search results, you have to make sure your results page is optimized so that users can quickly evaluate different options and make a decision.

With mobile screen sizes you can’t include everything, so you’ve got to make smart, data-driven decisions about what to include. Without the right information or understanding of what a product is, users could easily swipe past the perfect product for their needs.

The Nielsen and Norman group has a fantastic post about just this topic. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Determine whether using an image will help users decide
  • If the images are not meaningful, place it on the right side (where there’s less emphasis). Else, let the text take the left side where users focus
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Image via Nielsen/Norman Group


Consider as well what information is most useful to the user and allow them the ability to filter their searches. If you’re selling clothes, you may want to include alternative colors or patterns. If you sell hard drives, technical specifications may be the most valuable.

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HotelTonight Optimal # of Results (Motivation / Ability)

Most teams run into this question at one point or another: How many results should I show for mobile results pages?

Show too few and users perceive a lack of choice. Too many and they’ll run into decision fatigue and be overwhelmed by the choices.

We know Google’s optimal # is about 10 results, Airbnb: 20. HotelTonight saw only slight differences between 10-15 results.

Since each app is different, you’ve got to test and determine what the optimal UX is for your unique product and value.

While google’s optimal listings may sit nicely at ~10, HotelTonight’s are about 10.

What should be your mantra regarding this matter? Test test test! Testing to figure out what the optimal UX is for your users will tell you what works for you unique product and value.


Eliminate Password Confirmations (Ability)

Validating users’ identities can be pretty difficult for mobile users because typing in email, passwords, and other form fields is a huge pain in the ass.

How many times today have you made a typing mistake on your phone already?

When forcing users to login with their username and password, you are asking them to do something for you, so you’ve got to make it as easy as possible to avoid infuriating situations.

Step one is eliminating the “Confirm Password” field. It’s easier to go reset a password then it is to meticulously try and type a password twice perfectly on that tiny keyboard. Also, if you can make your signup form look shorter in any way, this is always the preferred route. Signup forms on mobile can look a lot longer due to physical screen space versus a signup form on a desktop screen.

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Show Passwords (Ability)

One surprisingly simple and effective to increase the ability of users to register is to give users the options to show their passwords as they’re typing.

Hiding passwords is an artifact from web design that has somewhat surprisingly stuck around.

Its original purpose was to prevent over-the-shoulder exploits to prevent unauthorized access.

With mobile’s small screens and viewing angles, it’s near impossible to do the same type of exploit without getting obnoxiously close to them.

So LukeW, a Google designer, created a clever way to decrease the frustration of typing out mobile passwords: Simply display them in plain text rather than obfuscating them.

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Hold your horses though. If you’re suddenly displaying the password without explanation- red flags will go off. To mitigate possible “red flags”, add a toggle button that clearly indicates users have the option to choose whether or not they show their passwords puts them at ease.

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Image via lukew.com


Apple Pay (Ability)

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If your goal is to decrease friction/hurdles in the payment process, utilizing native payments like Apple Pay or Google Pay can do absolute wonders. With it, users don’t have to spend time and effort typing in form fields. They can simply press the Apple Pay button and be on their merry way.

When HotelTonight A/B tested Apple Pay on their app, they found that the increased ability resulted in a 15% increase in conversions.


Home Depot Purchase Options (Ability)

Just because you’re shopping on mobile doesn’t mean you always want the item shipped to you. That’s why Home Depot’s take on mobile commerce is so well thought out.

Utilizing the user’s location data, the app allows users to checkout and pick up an item in store, rather than just having it shipped.

For a traditional brick and mortar business, this functionality is core to the user experience, allowing them to pick the option most convenient for their use case. Whether that is allowing them to pick up an item more quickly in store or not having them deal with long checkout lines all depend on the situation.

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Design for 1 Hand Operation (Ability)

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It may seem obvious to many, but designing for 1 hand operation is actually quite key on mobile.

A large majority of users on mobile tend to operate the phone on the go, whether walking down the street or checking mail under the table. Whatever the app, users will often find themselves navigating with only one hand.

Unfortunately, the phones aren’t designed in a way that allows for users to reach the entire screen, so designing for one-hand usage is a big usability issue.

When it comes to m-commerce conversions, this means that most of the actionable buttons or taps should generally be located near the bottom ½ of the screen for easy access.


Using a Progress Bar (Motivation)

Video games use progress bars for a reason: they show how much additional effort is necessary until the next reward. If they didn’t exist, users would often get frustrated not knowing when the grind of tasks would end.

Inserting progress bars into your mobile commerce app’s flow is critical to keep motivation up and show the light at the end of the tunnel. This small yet potent gamification tactic can make all the difference in your conversion funnel process.

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Focus on App Speed (Ability)

Mobile users are far more easily disengaged than web users for a simple reason: their environments are much more distracting.

Think of the typical mobile use case. Users are on the go, waiting for friends, sitting on a bus, etc. Web users on the other hand are more often in coffee shops, workplaces, or at home.

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These distractions, in combination with spotty data connections cause users to drop off quite often.

That’s why prioritizing for responsiveness and connectivity make a huge difference. The slower your page loads, the more likely they are to drop off. Speed it up and users can get tasks completed before their next distraction kicks in.


Form Fields That Make Sense

On a small mobile screen, how you design form fields is critical for the usability of any conversion page.

What you don’t want to do is place a high cognitive load on users by only using disappearing placeholder text, like this:

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Because then when they start typing…

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It looks like this.

If the form doesn’t have a label above it, we’re relying on the user’s memory to recall constraints and what field they’re filling out.

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Image via Nielsen/Norman Group

Ideally, you want both the label and the hint (“Must have at least 6 characters”) above the form field so that they’re always visible.

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Yes, it does take a bit more space, but the strain on users isn’t worth the few extra rows of pixels it’ll buy you.


“What Works For Us Doesn’t Necessarily Work for You”

While these are all good, general tips for mobile commerce teams, it’s important to note that not everything here is going to perfectly work for your app.

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What you want to focus on are the core reasons why these initiatives work (increasing ability and/or motivation) and how to apply the foundational principle to drive these KPIs in your app. Then, go test how a new change of feature affects user behavior.

With the mobile landscape changing every 6 months or so, a lot of the assumptions we’ve made in the past simply won’t keep up. By setting up an agile iteration methodology, teams can really start leveraging data to gain new insights on the user experience.


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