March 18, 2010, 12:00 AM

Musician’s Friend marches to its own m-commerce beat

Musician’s Friend will have four m-commerce sites and an app, whereas most retailers engaged in mobile commerce only have one site and/or app. And it’s doing all its own m-commerce work in-house, while most retailers rely on mobile vendors.

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Musician’s Friend Inc. is bucking two mobile commerce trends: It’s operating a site and an app and building three more sites, whereas most retailers selling to consumers through mobile phones operate only one site and/or app. And it’s doing all its own m-commerce work in-house, while most retailers rely on vendors that specialize in the mobile arena.

Musician’s Friend got started in mobile with the launch of its Stupid Deal of the Day iPhone app in November 2008, then unveiled a fully transactional m-commerce site in March 2009. The retailer is also working on stand-alone mobile sites for three other brands: the site for Music123 will launch in the summer, for The Woodwind and Brasswind in the fall and for Guitar Center’s in 2011.

“We have a multi-brand strategy and have been very careful to define unique value propositions for each of the brands,” CEO Craig Johnson says. “For example, Woodwind and Brasswind is very centered on band and orchestra and Musician’s Friend on hobbyists and aspiring professional musicians. It’s the same reason we have individually branded e-commerce sites. Our strategy all along has been to provide a customer experience based on how and where they want to shop, and right now mobile is where it’s at.”

And Musician’s Friend is doing all the work in-house because it found paying a vendor to do the work would cost more-it cost in the five figures to build the MusiciansFriend.com mobile site, it says, versus what could have been a $100,000 to $200,000 investment with a vendor-and because it believed it had strong developers who were more than up to the task.

“We have a really good user experience and web development team and we wanted to give them the opportunity,” says Portia Becker, director of e-commerce systems development. “Plus it was less expensive, allowing us to get our foot in the water for a lower cost.”

Experts say building and maintaining m-commerce in-house is a good strategy if a retailer sees m-commerce as important to the future of the company.

Managing m-commerce in-house over time gives a committed retailer more power and flexibility-if a retailer has a strong development staff, says Julie Ask, a research director at Forrester Research Inc. who specializes in m-commerce.

“If you are using a vendor’s platform you are limited to what the platform can do, and you might look like your competitors. So you benefit from the scale of companies using the same nuts and bolts but you are also tied to the vendor’s pace of innovation,” Ask says. “Retailers doing mobile in-house, assuming they have a strong staff, can do what they want.”

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