August 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

7,435 Mobile Retailers

Mobile merchants go from few to many in a hurry

Lead Photo

On July 15 there were around 175 retailers and consumer brand manufacturers in mobile commerce, operating an m-commerce web site or a mobile app, or both, according to Internet Retailer research. By December 31, if all goes as planned, there will be 7,435. At least.

Unbelievable? Do the math.

— On June 9, at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition, on-demand e-commerce platform provider Venda Inc. announced it had begun offering the mobile commerce platform of Digby. Jeffrey Max, CEO of Venda, said he expects 200 of his retailer clients to have m-commerce sites by the end of the year.

— On June 16, Internet Retailer broke the news that Internet giant Yahoo Inc. and m-commerce technology provider Unbound Commerce had joined forces to offer m-commerce sites to the 45,000 merchants on the Yahoo Stores platform. Paul Boisvert, lead product manager, e-commerce, at Yahoo, predicted 250 new sites by December.

— Next at bat was Shopatron Inc. Internet Retailer broke the story on July 2 that the technology provider had added m-commerce site functionality to its e-commerce platform and would flip its software-as-a-service switch in late July and usher 610 of its clients into the mobile realm. It promises another 200 by the fall.

— And last, but by no means least, came word from BigCommerce, which is living up to its name. Internet Retailer broke the news July 13 that, like Shopatron, BigCommerce had integrated m-commerce site functionality into its software-as-a-service e-commerce platform and in late July would mobilize all 6,000 of its retailer clients.

An enormous leap

M-commerce has been growing and evolving at a rapid pace, and experts were predicting many more m-commerce sites and apps by the holiday shopping season. No one, however, expected such an enormous leap forward. But such is the case because of a group of forward-thinking e-commerce technology providers that have the infrastructure, hosting methodology and large client bases to make it happen.

“One of the reasons we entered into a relationship with Shopatron was for the company as a vendor partner to keep us at the forefront of e-commerce. We expect them as a partner to bring to the table things like mobile commerce,” says Keith Neely, vice president of customer support and information technology at sporting goods and apparel manufacturer Mizuno USA, a client of Shopatron that’s going mobile. “People are really adopting and using smartphones. So it’s great to be able to take our e-commerce storefront and make it optimized for mobile without having to do a lot of new development.”

And that is the key: no new development. The vast majority of the retailers going mobile have e-commerce platforms that are provided using the software-as-a-service method in which the e-commerce vendor hosts the platform and data on its servers and links it all to the merchant via the Internet. This way, the merchant does not have to perform any maintenance or implement any upgrades. Any changes the vendor makes are automatically “turned on” for the merchant, including the addition of mobile commerce site optimization.

Take Shopatron, for example. Once it flips the switch, consumers using mobile devices running the Apple, Android, BlackBerry or WebOS (Palm) operating systems or using the Opera Mini mobile web browser who type in the standard URL of any of the hundreds of Shopatron-hosted sites will be automatically redirected to a mobile-optimized version.

The works

The m-commerce sites will feature all the standard information, such as product details, pricing, images and the like, and will offer features and functions including 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,” says Sean Collier, chief information officer and vice president of product. “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. 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%. 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 standardized way that allows for great flexibility, Collier explains. In this way, it can, for example, flow the same product data into both an e-commerce template and an m-commerce template without having to reformat information. Its commerce platforms are based on templates designed to easily accommodate and display that data, making time to market for an m-commerce site extremely fast, he adds.

Once launched, no change on the part of the merchants is required—m-commerce orders are handled in the same way as e-commerce orders, Neely explains. “From an order fulfillment perspective, we will not do anything differently,” he says. “Initially, we will not market in a different way. We will, however, begin tracking the data to get a better understanding of how consumers are accessing our sites.”

Use of templates

Most of the thousands of new m-commerce sites will be launched in a highly templated fashion. Experts agree that the moves by the various vendors all coming so close together represent an event of massive proportions for mobile commerce. But some wonder how a large group of highly templated sites will rate.

“I don’t in any way discount what the vendors have 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 hundreds 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?”

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