Today there are 160 retailers active in mobile commerce, according to Internet Retailer research. By month’s end, if all goes as planned, there will be 770.
E-commerce platform and online marketing provider Shopatron Inc. is in the final weeks of testing m-commerce site-building functionality that it will add to its platform offering at no additional cost to its more than 800 clients. When consumers using mobile devices running Apple Inc.’s iOS4 (or earlier versions), Android, BlackBerry or Palm’s WebOS operating systems or using the Opera Mini mobile web browser type in the standard URL of any of the 610 sites they will automatically be redirected to a mobile-optimized version of the site. Shopatron’s nearly 200 other clients will follow by fall,
The m-commerce sites will feature all the standard information, such as product details, pricing, images and the like, and will offer such features as alternate images, contact forms, featured products, shopping carts, site search and product zoom.
“We started getting a lot of clients asking about m-commerce. They wanted to get their brand experience across in the best possible light to as many consumers as possible while also capturing more sales,” Sean Collier, chief information officer and vice president of product, tells Internet Retailer. “We do things at Shopatron as software as a service for a reason: to give all of our clients as many tools as possible in a very efficient way.” Software as a service is a delivery model in which the vendor hosts the application and the client retailer accesses it via a web connection.
“Interest in m-commerce really came on strong in early 2009, and we reached critical mass early this year as we saw mobile traffic to our clients’ e-commerce sites approaching 2%,” Collier says. “That’s enough to really bring in some serious dollars. So we began building the m-commerce functions and now we’re ready to launch.”
Shopatron stores client data in a “unified product model,” a highly standardized mode that allows for great flexibility, Collier explains. And the e-commerce and now m-commerce platforms are based on templates designed to easily accommodate and display that data, condensing the time required to bring an m-commerce site to market, he adds.
The m-commerce sites will launch with all of the fundamental aspects of online shopping bar one: checkout. At the beginning, once shoppers click Checkout in the mobile shopping cart, they will be directed to the e-commerce site checkout page. A completely mobile checkout process will be added in September.
“For our core client base, brand manufacturers, it’s OK to get those products out there first. The vast majority of their sales are not on the web,” says Mark Grondin, senior vice president of marketing. “They want customers in any store anywhere to look at that product, and then get the information they want and buy that in the store. So having the product sections available through mobile is an advantage for them. Rather than wait until we had both products and checkout done, we knew there were benefits to be had in having the stores up with product information, so we are getting those to market now and will have mobile checkout completed in September.”
Launching 610 m-commerce sites in one fell swoop changes the face of mobile retailing. Experts agree that this is an event of massive proportions. But some wonder how a large group of highly templated sites will rate.
“I don’t in any way discount what Shopatron has achieved, but releasing so many at one time does raise some questions,” says Julie A. Ask, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. who follows m-commerce. “When you think about creating more than 600 of anything very quickly you think about quality: Is it quantity over quality, or is the quality good? If you do this many at one time there has to be some degree of automation, so how different are the features and functions and look and feel of each site going to be? How much branding is left to the retailer?”
Shopatron says a lot. While the basic m-commerce sites at launch are highly templated, clients will be able to customize their sites as they wish for a fee, which Shopatron declines to disclose.
“These templates are 100% customizable,” Collier says. “If a brand says they want to change something, we do it. Our first release of mobile is in a mass-templated version, but from there, brands can have the m-commerce sites modified as they like. If you look at our clients’ e-commerce stores today, you will see a wide array of look-and-feel and aesthetics.”
And Shopatron has a wide array of consumer brand manufacturer clients going mobile, including: Mizuno and Head Tyrolia, both in sporting goods; Stanley Furniture; Kawai, in musical instruments; Segway, in personal transportation vehicles; and Johnson Level and Tools. It will take additional time to add m-commerce sites for the remaining 200 or so manufacturers that sell online, including Callaway Golf, No. 288 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, because their e-commerce sites are highly customized and require individual attention.