October 12, 2011, 8:55 AM

Mobile Commerce Forum Report: Mobile plays a bigger role for two online retailers

LifePics and Jewelry Television pursue aggressive mobile strategies.

Lead Photo

Ken McDonald

As initial mobile programs evolve from simply add-ons to e-commerce, they are moving into a more central role in overall business strategy at many merchants. That was the experience shared by Ken McDonald, vice president of marketing, LifePics and Brian Wilhelm, director of online marketing for Jewelry Television, in a session Tuesday at the Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce Forum in Houston.

The rapid development of mobile presented a new opportunity for online photo-finishing services company LifePics to compete with larger players, McDonald said. With more consumers bypassing digital cameras to use their mobile phones to take pictures, edit them and send them for printing, LifePics could gain an edge over larger competitors accustomed to receiving photos from desktop PCs if it could accept and process photos from customers sending them via mobile, he said.

LifePics responded with the development of an online community that incents developers to build apps that link to LifePics and its network of photo-finishing service providers. That spread out the development load and saved LifePics the effort of building itself those apps and connections to many web sites.

“Our concept was that anywhere there could be photos on the Internet, we want there to be a button that says ‘print this photo’ that links you back to LifePics,” McDonald said.

LifePics encourages that by making available online a detailed open API, or application programming interface, essentially, a blueprint for developers who want to build an app linking their mobile platform, site or software to LifePics for photo services. LifePics built some of the apps internally to serve as models for outside developers.

LifePics offers a 3.5% revenue share to companies who build an app linking to LifePics for photo finishing on every purchase resulting from the link. Today, with approximately 100 outside partners, 37% of LifePics’ transaction fees comes from these partner firms.

Wilheim then described how Jewelry TV developed a mobile strategy after seeing growing traffic to its e-commerce site, JTV.com, coming from mobile devices. In launching its mobile site a year ago, the retailer wanted first to satisfy current demand and include the relevant features to support its core customers.

“Jewelry Television is primarily a television shopping network, so we focused on our TV shopper and how we can deliver that TV shopping experience to the mobile device," Wilhelm said. “We started with our mobile web site and commerce to support existing mobile customers.”

That led to the development of a mobile site that enabled mobile phone users to watch live broadcast on the TV network, view current and recent items item on-air, see product ratings and reviews, and view all of the 30,000 items in inventory. It also included a persistent shopping cart that stays with the shopper as she adds items on the mobile site.

Jewelry TV bought many of those functions and more to the iPhone and Android mobile apps it developed next. “A major focus or our apps is education,” Wilhelm said, noting content such as a “Gemopedia” with information on gemstones that is available through the app. “It was important for us to put this kind of information in front of consumers as they are shopping.”

Sales from mobile devices, including iPads, grew from 4% in January to 9% of sales in September, Wilhelm said. iPad sales now represent 2.5% of all online sales, and mobile shoppers represent 12% of Jewelry TV’s total unique online visitors.

The latest phase of Jewelry TV’s mobile strategy emphasizes video, with live streaming on its web site, to Apple and Android devices, Roku online video players and Facebook. “Mobile and Internet-connected devices have dramatically shifted where and how traditional media like television is consumed,” Wilhelm said. “The customer should be able to enjoy our video broadcast and content on any device they want.”

The next evolution of Jewelry TV’s mobile strategy will include developing iPad apps to promote the retailer’s brand and deliver video, and also delivering more video content via mobile, he added.

Jewelry Television is No. 183 in the Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce 300 Guide and No. 153 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

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