Predictions are that by 2020 80% of all online retail will involve a smartphone. At Spreadshirt over half of our visits and 40% of sales already come via smartphones. For eCommerce retailers like us, it’s no longer enough to have a mobile-first strategy; mobile is the strategy. So how can eCommerce retailers take shopping to smartphones?

The original Spreadshirt vision was to use print-on-demand technology to allow local artists to create and sell ideas in shops. Fifteen years later, the vision has grown into enabling everyone with an idea to sell anywhere in the world. Print-on-demand means buyers can personalise their clothing, choosing a design, style, size and colour to suit them. Smartphones mean they can do it from anywhere.

Personalisation is complex, especially on a smartphone, but our job is to make it look simple. So how did we bring this service to the smartphone? We needed to do three things: identify the trend, create a smartphone offering and review our underlying technology.

Identifying the trend

In 2013 we noticed a rising trend in visits to the Spreadshirt site from smartphone users. At that time, the perceived wisdom was that the small screen of a smartphone would result in smaller basket sizes. Consumers just wouldn’t buy expensive products, like £20 hoodies, or do any design work via their mobile phones. But over twenty years in retail has taught me never to try and get the customers to do what you want them to do – always build around them.

A smartphone shopping offering

So, we decided to test the water. Could we convert these early smartphone visitors to buyers? We looked at three areas: for buyers, designers and sellers.

For buyers, we decided to optimise our create-your-own t-shirt designer, so that it would respond better to smaller screen sizes and touch devices. As a result, in 2013 access from mobile devices rose 300%. Right now our developers are working on a completely new design tool, optimised for smartphones in particular.

Our designers use the Spreadshirt platform to upload their ideas to our international marketplaces. Others then use these ideas to personalise their create-your-own products. In 2014, we simplified the user-interface and search facility to make it more mobile-friendly. We also gave it a stronger design by reducing the text and improving the symbols. Since then we have put more emphasis on mobile with every iteration. Today there is no difference between the mobile and desktop marketplace.

Our mobile strategy gained ground and in 2015 we developed and launched a new, completely responsive, shop system for our sellers. This gave them a more intuitive layout and faster loading times, so they could quickly populate their shops with fresh ideas. Last year we created an app that gives sellers a real-time, effortless overview of their activity; ultimately helping to drive sales.

Our mobile IS the strategy approach means everyone, buyers, designers and sellers, gets the same features and services, regardless of the browser or device used to shop or visit.

Underlying technology

Of course, before we could develop these mobile services, we needed to deal with our 15-year-old, legacy technology and adopt an agile development process. Too often online retailers focus on rapid growth and profit over upgrading the technology platform. Having fixed the issues with our underlying technology, we were free to develop the tools that would make our users’ lives easier.

Making mobile the strategy like this has meant a steep investment, but online retailers can’t let up. We need to keep up with our consumers who are leading this trend. Indeed, the Centre for Retail Research predicts that spending on purchases in 2017 will be around £27bn in the UK, more than any other European market. The amount of smartphone shoppers is also expected to rise this year, reaching 23 million people.

The proof of our mobile IS the strategy pudding has been in the eating. Since we made these changes we’ve seen a rise in the share of our sales which come from smartphones. Not only that, but the share is increasing, while share from tablets decreases. In 2016 it was 40% globally and 73% if we break out Europe and the UK. Share of smartphone visits on the Spreadshirt site are 39% globally in 2016, largely driven by Europe and the UK, which account for 19% of all smartphone visits. In terms of orders, growth is up 23% year-on-year globally and the share is up 42%, again driven by the EU & UK.

All retailers are alive to the phenomenon that is smartphone shopping. We were perhaps expecting mobile devices, such as iPads and other notebooks to drive mobile sales, but consumers, especially in the UK, have taken to using their smartphones for more expensive and complicated purchases. Our experience with personalisation at a product level, meant that we wanted to create the same, personal journey for our buyers, sellers and designers. We adapted our offering to suit them, and they wanted it on their smartphones.

Philip Rooke, is the CEO of T-shirt printing and personalisation e-tailer, Spreadshirt.