September 30, 2011, 12:00 AM

Amazon conquers the mobile universe

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Consumers are buying a wide range of products via mobile, often as a result of e-mail promotions, Grover says.

"We send out an e-mail every day and we see customers quickly purchasing those products via their mobile phones on the m-commerce site and through the mobile app," he says. "These products will range from a book to a bottle of wine to a several-thousand-dollar television."

Staples is also streamlining the process of searching and buying on smartphones by incorporating bar code scanning in the upcoming new version of its smartphone app. No longer will a small business owner have to stand at his supply closet, writing down the supplies he needs and return to his PC to enter the products, says Brian Tilzer, vice president of e-commerce and business development at Staples. "Now they will be able to go into the closet and through our app scan the items they need to replenish and have them come up in the cart where they can easily have them shipped."

Right here, right now

Fandango makes things easy for customers through a smartphone app feature called GoNow. When a customer touches the GoNow button on the home screen, the app activates the GPS, which pinpoints the customer, then automatically displays movies starting within the hour at nearby theaters. Customers logged into their accounts can purchase tickets with just a few taps, accessing stored payment information.

"We conducted usability testing and decided to design a very simple user interface; we looked at what most people are trying to do with Fandango and created a path that was as simple as possible," says Jessica Yi, chief product officer at Fandango. "As we talked with users it was clear that location and context were really crucial. Users expect the app to know where they are and pull in the most relevant movies and theaters around them."

This ability for customers to purchase tickets wherever they may be has pushed forward the peak time they buy tickets from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., much closer to movie start times.

A site, an app or both?

Fandango is one of The Mobile Commerce Top 300 players with both a site and apps. The majority of retailers, travel companies and ticket sellers in the Top 300 have just an m-commerce site; they number 176. Only five have just an app, and 119 have both a site and an app.

Apps enable richer features and functions and faster speed than sites because apps reside on the mobile device hardware and can make fuller use of a device's capabilities.

"There are lots of things you can do with mobile apps to make the shopping experience faster and easier to meet the needs of the customer," says Hall of Amazon.com. "For example, unlike mobile sites, apps let you access your device's camera for bar code scanning and you can utilize voice input as an alternate search method. Applications are typically faster, because you can cache things on the device."

Still, only iPhone users can use an iPhone app, Android users an Android app, and so on. Any web-enabled mobile device can access a mobile site, and that's where merchants typically get started in m-commerce.

Crutchfield has focused its mobile commerce efforts on its site, which it launched in 2009 and redesigned in 2011. It will generate $3.2 million in sales through the site in 2011, according to The Mobile Commerce Top 300.

12% of its total Internet traffic stems from mobile devices and it's prepared to receive visitors with not just transactional shopping but a bevy of information to help customers research and understand its products. Crutchfield sells via its m-commerce site products that span its offerings, everything from car subwoofers to 50-inch LCD TVs.

"One of the things we're known for as a company is the amount of information we provide," says Todd Cabell, senior manager of e-commerce at Crutchfield. "So now on the m-commerce site we include a Details tab, which leads to extremely in-depth information about products, spec charts, a What's In The Box section of what exactly you are going to get, a full accessories list, and more photos and optimized videos. We also created a new Research tab with 1,300 articles and videos. Since the launch of the redesign we've seen our mobile traffic jump 30%."

Smartphones in stores

All that information is available to shoppers wherever they are, which makes mobile commerce sites and apps more than just a place to buy—they are a place to research and compare prices as well. This can help a store retailer close a sale, by providing information that gives the consumer the confidence to buy; but it can give an edge to a web-only retailer that offers a price better than the one on the store shelf.

Some experts say Amazon.com has become the Google of mobile shopping, in that many consumers while in stores go to Amazon's site or app to check product information and prices.

"Amazon is a shopping research portal," says Julie A. Ask, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. "When you look at the type of research people want to do on phones, Amazon has it all. If a person wants to get a product right now, then no, Amazon won't get the sale. But if a person sees that Amazon has the best deal and she can get the product in one or two days, she'll buy it on the spot. Amazon gets enough incremental revenue through sales like these that it is worthwhile for them to be the biggest shopping research portal on the web."

Staples designed its site with an eye to serving customers in both the mobile and store channels. It wants to make things easy on the mobile side, such as through scanning and buying products from an office supplies closet, but also create a mobile tool that helps customers in stores. A customer in a store might forget the kind of ink cartridge he requires; through mobile he can see his past purchases and quickly figure it out.

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