October 13, 2010, 3:55 PM

ShopNBC weighs its next steps in mobile commerce

New developments in mobile technology make for tough choices, exec says.

Don Davis

Editor in Chief

Lead Photo

Carol Steinberg

TV and web retailer ShopNBC is planning new mobile initiatives, but what form they will take has been made more complicated by new developments in mobile technology, a senior executive explained today at Internet Retailer’s Mobile Commerce Forum 2010 in Chicago.

ShopNBC took a big step forward in mobile last December when it launched a mobile commerce site that let consumers complete purchases, and linked its iPhone and Android mobile apps to that checkout process, explained Carol Steinberg, senior vice president of e-commerce marketing and business development.

It’s time for an upgrade and some enhancements are on the drawing board. They include video clips, streaming video and enabling shoppers to share the items they see on the mobile site and apps with social network friends.

But the big question Steinberg is weighing is whether to continue maintaining two apps in addition to a mobile commerce site. She notes that a new web development technology known as HTML5 enables a mobile commerce site, or an “m-dot site” as Steinberg called it, to offer some of the benefits of an app, notably being able to store data so that pages load more quickly.

“That may be all that we need right now,” Steinberg told conference attendees. “To invest in an iPhone and Android app and in an m-dot site is three platforms we have to manage and keep in sync, and that scares me.”

That decision, and all decisions about mobile commerce initiatives, should be made based on what suits a retailer’s customers and business objectives, she said. For some companies it may be important to offer the most alluring mobile experience, she said. But for ShopNBC the main aim has been to offer loyal customers a familiar and comfortable way to shop via their mobile phones.

With that in mind, the site and apps have focused on providing access to the information most customers want. “Our customer wants to know what is on special today, what’s on the air now, what’s on sale,” said. All those feature are easily accessed from the home page of the mobile site, which was developed by mobile technology vendor Usablenet.

Other key features include a site search box on every page so shoppers can search, including by item number. There’s also a phone number on every page so customers can call in their orders. And the retailer pays careful attention to putting all the text into a clear typeface.

All of that makes sense, but still mobile represents less than 10% of ShopNBC’s revenue and web traffic. Together, the retailer’s e-commerce and mobile sites account for more than 40% of revenue, she added. If mobile were producing more sales, Steinberg said she could justify a bigger investment.

The question is what to invest in now that will produce a positive ROI, given ShopNBC’s business. And that may not require the most cutting-edge app or site.

“We’re looking at enhancing and upgrading as appropriate,” Steinberg said.

“We’re looking at things that will enhance the customer experience and that will enable us to sell more product and give customers more confidence.”

ShopNBC is No. 89 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

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