March 31, 2010, 12:00 AM

Sponsored Supplement: Partners that help e-retailers play to their strengths

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Consumers’ growing use of web-enabled smartphones is turning m-commerce into an important sales channel. A conventional web site won’t cut it when selling to consumers using a sophisticated phone like an iPhone or BlackBerry because navigating standard sites on the phone’s small screen is not easy. M-commerce requires that retailers acquire new mobile-optimized platforms to properly deliver their web stores to consumers with smartphones.

Building and operating a separate mobile platform can be expensive. Choosing a mobile commerce platform that can be integrated into an existing e-commerce platform allows retailers to develop an m-commerce store more cost-effectively, while maintaining consistency in the shopping and brand experiences between the two channels.

“The mobile experience should be consistent with what the customer experiences on the web store, even though mobile is a different medium,” says Driscoll. “By driving the mobile platform off their existing e-commerce platform retailers can create a mobile experience that allows consumers to do more than browse; they can actually purchase and experience the retailer’s brand.”

Demandware’s mobile commerce product is driven by the same platform that powers its customers’ web sites.

Because the limited screen size of mobile devices is not suited for extensive browsing, getting the consumer to the product she wants and to checkout in as few steps as possible is crucial. “A mobile shopper should be able to move from a search result to checkout in three to four steps,” says Zisk. “That means building a store specifically for the mobile channel, not just putting up a pared-down version of the e-commerce catalog.”

That requires retailers to figure out what they can most effectively sell through a mobile web site or an app designed for a specific smartphone, like the iPhone. An apparel retailer may want to focus on helping mobile shoppers manage their wardrobes by creating navigation paths that allow them to quickly state their preferences for style and color through checklists. Then the retailer can show the shopper products that meet her criteria, and also products that the retailer wants her to see.

“Mobile commerce is about removing clutter,” says Zisk. “Do that and consumers can buy the products they want and retailers can easily showcase products that fit shopper preferences.”

Pick a partner

Because technology vendors are increasingly crucial to e-commerce, retailers must do their due diligence before partnering with vendors. Basic steps include testing or getting a demonstration of an application and talking to existing clients.

Retailers should also ask vendors such questions as: What sustainable advantage will they gain from the technology and the relationship? How will the technology help grow their business? How does the vendor plan to meet the short-term and long-term needs of its business?

Finally, retailers need to ask the vendor to explain what level of service they can expect once they become a client. “The partnership matters the most after the site is launched or the application is implemented,” says Driscoll. “Retailers want a vendor that is there for them long-term, not a relationship that ends after implementation.”

With market share more closely tied to the resources retailers put behind marketing and merchandising, it is imperative they choose technologies that allow them to be more creative in managing site content and customer interactions, and leave platform maintenance and upgrades to the vendor.

“The constantly evolving nature of marketing and merchandising on the web means that retailers can no longer afford to pour the majority of their resources into infrastructure support if they want to differentiate and grow their business,” says Zisk. “E-commerce is about selling, and that is what retailers need to focus on.”

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