November 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

Early learnings

(Page 2 of 2)

Barcelona praised Target's mobile app for a rich feature set, including access to customer reviews, and the ability to find, get directions to and see hours for the nearest Target store. The app also allows consumers to e-mail or text product information to themselves for later use. Mobile shoppers also can opt in to receive text messages about deals and promotions and to obtain mobile coupons to show in-store for purchase.

Barcelona pointed out some missed opportunities in the mobile app of retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. For example, app users who hit the Shop button are taken to the full version of the site, not yet optimized for mobile, which means some consumers won't be able to navigate it easily on their phones.

ShopNBC.com was in the spotlight at the forum because of its robust apps and m-commerce site. Carol Steinberg, senior vice president of e-commerce, marketing and business development at the TV and web retailer, discussed in detail the merchant's mobile commerce program.

The big question Steinberg is weighing today is whether to continue maintaining two apps in addition to a mobile commerce site. She noted 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.

Whether it's a site or an app, retailers must give serious thought to mobile design. E-retailers considering mobile commerce first must determine how they can best serve their mobile customers and then give them a web site, mobile-optimized site or mobile app that delivers on those needs, Imad Mouline, chief technology officer at Gomez, the web performance division of Compuware Corp., and Nicholas Cole, director of marketing for e-retailer The Catholic Co., told attendees in a forum session on mobile design.

Making a choice

Mouline said there is no single design strategy that works best for all mobile web sites. An e-retailer has to make a choice on whether to let customers interact with its existing site via mobile, create a mobile-optimized site or design a specialized mobile app. He says an e-retailer with a simple web design without lots of large photos or rich media may be able to let mobile consumers find and interact with the retailer's conventional web site, but he doubts that will work for many e-retailers today.

"Especially in retail, you will run into issues in the way your traditional web site works and the navigational paradigms on how mobile works. Unless your site is incredibly simple, you are probably better off optimizing the site for mobile," he said.

That's what CatholicCompany.com decided to do, Cole said. The e-retailer of religious books and devotional products scanned the m-commerce marketplace late last year and considered its design, development and maintenance options. The retailer chose to create a mobile-optimized version of its web site that consumers could access from any mobile web browser, rather than apps that only work on a specific handset, such as an iPhone or BlackBerry. It also decided to develop the mobile site in-house so it could control costs and design.

Mouline said providing the mobile web user with an optimal experience is paramount—consumers are past the point where they will accept longer page load times on mobile sites or mobile web browsing problems. "The days of saying it's OK because its mobile are behind us," he said. He added research has shown that 58% of mobile phone users expect web sites to load as quickly on their mobile phones as they do on their desktops, and that he expects that percentage to keep rising.

While there were differing opinions among speakers at the forum on when shopping via mobile commerce sites and apps and text message marketing would fully mature, they agreed on one thing: M-commerce is here, it's happening today, and it will be an increasingly powerful force in Internet retailing as more consumers flock to smartphones and the mobile web.

bill@verticalwebmedia.com

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