November 10, 2009, 12:00 AM

Mobile novice US Appliance goes all out for m-commerce

As it watched a growing stream of shoppers coming to its site from mobile devices, the retailer decided that it had to plunge into the emerging channel to better serve all its customers—and prepare for a mobile future.

A short while ago, US Appliance did what mobile commerce experts keep telling retailers to do: use analytics to see how much traffic is coming to the site via mobile devices. It discovered that close to 1% of its shoppers were on a mobile phone, a number that has doubled over the past three months and that the company expects to grow more quickly in the year ahead. The number may seem small, but it is significant, the company says, declining to give out the exact number of unique monthly mobile visitors.

The problem was this: All of these customers were getting a web experience far poorer than they could get if the site were optimized for mobile devices. Such optimization, m-commerce experts say, could turn many of these shoppers into buyers.

Even though it didn’t know much about mobile, US Appliance executives decided they had to be there for all customers and jumped in the deep end of m-commerce. Last week US Appliance debuted an m-commerce site (typing in US-Appliance.com on a smartphone redirects a user to the mobile-optimized site) and next month the retailer will debut an iPhone app. Both were developed by m-commerce technology vendor Digby.

“As more and more customers become mobile web savvy, it means we have to cater to them,” says John Stewart, marketing manager at US Appliance. “Right now we’re just exploring new territory because so many potential customers have become more and more comfortable with using their phone to browse the web, research products, compare prices and even buy. So at least we’re in the game for those customers who are savvier. We felt we needed to be in the space because this is definitely where things are heading.”

The m-commerce site puts US Appliance’s product catalog at consumers’ fingertips. The home page enables mobile consumers to shop by category, ranging from Chef’s Corner and Electronics to Laundry and Cooking. It also features sections for Clearance Deals and Top Sellers. Additionally, the home page includes a link that automatically connects to a smartphone’s e-mail program to enable quick feedback. Product pages contain images and vast amounts of product information.

“We don’t have high expectations to start out, but maybe we’ll get to the point where we’re doing thousands and thousands of dollars a week through mobile commerce,” Stewart says. “Right now we’re like a baby wandering around in all of this, as we jump in and learn as we go along. Relatively speaking, it’s a really small investment. And because of that, mobile is something most smaller and mid-sized retailers can take advantage of.”

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