November 8, 2010, 10:24 AM

Making jewelry on a mobile phone

Artbeads.com debuts an m-commerce site for customers getting comfortable with smartphones.

Lead Photo

The web-only retailer hopes to nab sales in competitors' stores via mobile comparison shopping.

What’s a web-only retailer to do when it sells a product that many shoppers like to touch and feel before purchasing? In the case of Artbeads.com, introduce a mobile commerce site.

Mobile technology is playing an increasingly important role in multichannel retailing as more shoppers pull out their phones in stores to compare prices, read customer reviews and perform other product research. This can result in a store losing sales to a competitor’s m-commerce site or app. And that’s what Artbeads.com is hoping for.

“Being a pure-play selling products that are very tactile—beads and jewelry supplies—a large portion of our customer base wants to be able to touch the products. We compensated by having some outstanding photography on our e-commerce site, but we wanted to see if there was one more step we could go,” says Michael Hervieux, chief operating officer. “M-commerce is an inroad for us. A customer can visit a competitor’s bricks-and-mortar store, take a look at products, and then have us on their phone to see how we position those products. Our entire catalog is available on the mobile site, and we focused on search functionality to locate our products very quickly to be able to satisfy that need.”

The retailer has been testing the m-commerce site for several months and has now officially unveiled it to its customers. Typing in Artbeads.com on a mobile device automatically redirects a shopper to the mobile site, built by m-commerce technology provider Unbound Commerce. Today about 2% of the retailer’s traffic stems from mobile devices. And that traffic is predominantly from devices running Apple Inc.’s iOS operating system. The greatest amount of traffic comes from the iPhone, then the iPad, then the iPod Touch, followed by devices running Google Inc.’s Android operating system.

Hervieux says the soaring adoption of smartphones will drive mobile commerce at Artbeads.com, No. 388 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

“Our demographic is a very high percentage of female, stay-at-home, as opposed to full-time employed women. More and more of these women are getting smartphones, they are permeating the market beyond the BlackBerry executives of yesterday,” Hervieux says. “Apple and Android have done a great job to make them desirable devices to everyone. For us it’s a gradual penetration compared to if we were selling a technology product; but the non-professional, non-businessperson is becoming more used to doing things on their phones.”

Artbeads.com is promoting its m-commerce site on its e-commerce site, in e-mail marketing, and on its Facebook and Twitter pages. It paid an implementation fee that it describes as “aggressively priced” and a monthly fee it says is “low” to Unbound Commerce, which integrates its m-commerce technology with the retailer’s e-commerce platform from Yahoo Merchant Solutions. Unbound Commerce and Yahoo began a partnership in the summer to bring Yahoo clients into the mobile sphere.

Artbeads.com may push further into mobile with a text messaging program. It is only in the consideration stage right now, but Hervieux says the technology holds promise.

“I’m excited about text messaging, but I want to find out first how much it will overlap with our demographic,” he says. “But there are a couple functions we offer our customers that I think would be ideal for texting, including order tracking and notifications.”

Looking ahead, Hervieux believes mobile commerce will become a channel unto itself and account for an increasing amount of sales.

“The smartphones are only going to get deeper and deeper penetration and broaden their acceptance among various demographics, including ours, and more and more people will become comfortable with the devices,” he says. “We will see some significant growth in mobile commerce and it will become just another channel we continue to service along with our e-commerce channel. Because people are looking at our products on a very different, very unique device, we must treat mobile commerce special, on its own.”

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