June 15, 2010, 4:13 PM

Mobile simplicity

Retailers developing mobile web sites need to discard the frills, experts say at IRCE.

Lead Photo

Jay Scannell, vice president of information technology for SkyMall Inc.

Three months after launching a mobile web site, Music Factory Direct receives 3% of its visitors from mobile phones, Stephen Leitch, marketing and IT director for the manufacturer and online retailer, told attendees last week at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition.

He spoke during a workshop session entitled "Mobile commerce web sites: Colorful, pared-down and easy."

The session, which also featured Jay Scannell, vice president of information technology for SkyMall Inc., and Mark Seidl, manager of retail operations for outdoor gear merchant REI.com, served as a source of advice for retailers hoping to launch mobile sites as well as a status report on sites already launched.

For instance, visitors to Music Factory Direct's mobile site have a bounce rate that is 30% below the rate for visitors to the conventional site, Leitch said. On average, visitors to the mobile site spend 130% more time there than do visitors to the site designed for PC users. And though 80% of visitors to the mobile site within the last month came via Apple devices, visitors accessing the site via devices that use the Google-backed Android operating system tend to spend more time on the site. Leitch could offer no explanation for that.

Among the advice given to attendees was to keep mobile site simple. The main reasons are to reduce technical challenges and create an efficient shopping experience for mobile consumers, though there can be other advantages. When SkyMall, which sells retail products to airline passengers, launched its site in 2007, it offered payment only through PayPal, Scannell said. PayPal was a known and trusted brand, and offering the payment option engendered trust among SkyMall shoppers.

REI, which needed eight weeks to develop its site, found that the"find a store" feature on the mobile site was especially important, Seidl said, advising other retailers to consider a similar move. He also told attendees to focus on a mobile site before creating a mobile app. "A site is by far the easiest place to start," he said.

He pointed out that a site costs less to create than an app, and is easier to maintain. As well, with so many apps vying for consumer attention—close to a quarter million third-party apps reside in Apple's app store—retailer apps face fierce competition, he said.

The first step for a retailer considering a mobile web site is a visit to the technology department to learn how many consumers are using mobile devices to access the conventional site and which devices they are using, Scannell said.

Early in the site-development process, retailers likely will have to simplify features from the main site so they work and look better on the mobile site. Music Factory Direct had to redesign its long logo—it seems to have a tail—to appear more compact on the mobile site, Leitch said. He also advised against using relatively complicated images based on Flash and advocated shortening the checkout process as much as possible.

"We're still working on that," he said. "Five steps is probably too many."

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