March 3, 2011, 11:40 AM

A slow approach to mobile commerce, aiming for perfection

Calendars.com keeps its m-commerce site hush-hush as it continues to tweak.

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The merchant has been tweaking its m-commerce site for months, readying it for a formal launch in the summer.

Some retailers rush the creation and launch of a mobile commerce site or app just to get it out there and be in the game. Many m-commerce experts advise against that, warning that opting for speed can sacrifice the best possible customer experience.

Calendars.com, operated by Calendar Holdings LLC, is most definitively not in a rush. It launched its m-commerce site, built in-house with help integrating back-end systems from Amplifi Commerce, last September with no fanfare. In fact, it didn’t tell a soul.

Since then, it’s been testing the site, reviewing it with a fine-tooth comb. Since its customers have not been beating down its doors for a mobile site, it says, it’s in no hurry. And other projects from time to time have pushed the mobile commerce site to the back burner. But at the same time, it sees traffic to its e-commerce site from mobile devices increasing, and knows it must soon provide a mobile-optimized experience for mobile consumers.

Presently there is no auto-redirect of the Calendars.com URL to the m-commerce site. Typing in Calendars.com on a mobile device takes a consumer to the full e-commerce site, where she must pinch and zoom her way through the full web site. For the time being the m-commerce site resides at Calendars.com/mobile, where the merchant can continually test the site in a live setting.

“It’s going to get publicly pushed this summer,” says Robert Gilbreath, director of e-commerce marketing and analytics at Calendars.com, No. 399 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. “It’s not yet fully what we envisioned. The things that are holding it back are minor design flaws, the way it looks and feels for the customer. Essentially pixel blockers.”

“Pixel blocker” is slang in web development for a very minor problem holding things up. “In some situations it’s OK,” Gilbreath says. “But sometimes we don’t worry about the details as much as we should, and on some mobile phones our mobile site has not rendered perfectly. We want to be perfect.”

One of the minor problems Calendars.com has encountered is with search results pages. When a user does a search and the results page is displayed, the page shifts off the screen by a few pixels. The merchant is working on the fix. It also has some problems with the auto-redirect, which sends consumers typing the regular URL into a mobile web browser automatically to the m-commerce site instead of the e-commerce site. It’s working on that “pixel blocker,” too.

But with competing projects completed and more consumers accessing Calendars.com on mobile devices, the merchant is close to finishing its m-commerce site. And then it’s on to the future, which might include apps for smartphones and tablets. The retailer wants to collect more analytics data before it makes any decisions.

“By this time next year we might have something different for the larger small screens like the tablets,” Gilbreath says. “And we’re asking ourselves, is a smartphone app really needed? Are there things our customers are really asking for that we can deliver in some different way through an app? Do these things need to be in a true app or can they be a function of the mobile site? We need more data before we can make these decisions.”

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