November 16, 2010, 10:54 AM

E-commerce vendor eases Tool King’s jump into m-commerce

The Top 500 e-retailer launches an iPhone app based on its e-commerce site.

Lead Photo

The e-retailer used new mobile functionality from its e-commerce provider, Magento, to launch a mobile app.

Beginning late last year, an increasing number of e-commerce technology providers began introducing m-commerce extensions of their e-commerce platforms. This trend continues as more providers come to view m-commerce functionality as a requirement for an e-commerce platform.

This is how web-only retailer Tool King LLC went mobile at the beginning of the month when it launched an iPhone app built by its e-commerce platform provider Magento Inc. As an e-commerce client of Magento, Tool King paid less than $1,000 to launch the app and pays around $750 a year to maintain it. It took about 40 hours of in-house staff time to work with Magento on design and integration. Behind the scenes the app runs using the Magento e-commerce systems.

“We had tried previously to develop an app, for our Tooliday deal site, on our own. It was a big development process that was difficult and tricky. And we figured a full-fledged app for our e-commerce site was beyond our capabilities. So we had back-burnered developing apps—until we found out about Magento’s new offering,” says Ben Skigen, e-commerce director at Tool King, No. 331 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. “It took very few resources on our end. We had to install some connector software on our web site, and from that point it was customizing the app to our brand, adding colors and logos and what categories we wanted to present, and making sure it looked good and worked well. They had pre-built the mechanics of the app and all we had to do was add our brand to it.”

The home screen of the free iPhone app features a large image with text describing the merchant’s best deals. Below is a deck of six product category tiles that users can slide from left to right and back, with three tiles appearing on screen at a time.

“Our company buys a lot of overstock and reconditioned and other products that none of our competitors have, so the featured deal lets us shine a spotlight on those best deals,” Skigen explains. Regarding the sliding tiles, he says, “we wanted a look and feel consistent with other iPhone apps. As a longtime iPhone user, I have an expectation of how apps should look and feel and this type of design was in line with what I felt was natural and intuitive for an iPhone interface.”

A challenge with mobile apps is discovery—consumers have to know they exist in order to use them, and making an app stand out among the 300,000 in Apple Inc.’s App Store can be difficult. In the short time Tool King has had its app, it’s been heavily promoting it, a key to success with mobile apps.

“We’ve been showcasing it on our social pages, on Facebook and Twitter; it’s now a part of our e-mail template, for every weekly marketing e-mail as well as our transactional e-mails,” Skigen says. “We’re also going to start stuffing fliers in packages. And it’s going to be on our home page soon. We’re readying an overhaul to our home page in time for Black Friday.”

Up next is an m-commerce web site that is being designed to resemble as much as possible the iPhone app; it is set to launch by Black Friday. After that, a version of the app that runs on devices using Google Inc.’s Android operating system; Skigen says Magento is reporting a year-end launch for the Android.

“I had been watching what Amazon has been doing with its app and it was pretty obvious that mobile commerce was a great opportunity—and one our competitors have not had, so I felt it was something we needed to pursue,” Skigen says. “85% of our customers are men, and the age range is from 25 to 65. And we sell products beyond contractors and carpenters to professions like artists and others. A lot of people across all industries are really getting into mobile. Everywhere I go I see people with iPhones. Mobile commerce gives us an edge.”

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