February 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

Overhaul Time

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Netbiscuits hosts the m-commerce site "in the cloud," that is, on Internet-based servers, and creates a presentation layer that's displayed to consumers coming to the site from mobile devices. But the underlying data that's presented is the same for both the mobile and desktop sites.

"Changes to the e-commerce site automatically get made to the m-commerce site," Arland explains. "On the home page we have this dynamic carousel and we might have three or four promotions at a time, and we like the flexibility to change them at any time. As soon as we change them, in the administration tool on our desktop site, they get made in the cloud for the mobile site. Everything is integrated and real-time."

Hurry up!

Time was of the essence for Toolfetch.com LLC. It launched its m-commerce site in early 2010 and was dogged by lackluster load times, the amount of time it takes for a page to travel from a server and render fully on a smartphone. It conducted a redesign in February 2011 that was solely focused on speeding things up. It uses search engine optimization and mobile commerce firm Covario.

First Toolfetch.com looked at functionality. It offered a rarity in mobile commerce: live chat. Was it nice? Yes. Was it necessary? No, and it slowed down load times. Out it went.

Then the retailer of tools and construction equipment looked at design. On the home page it listed nearly 20 categories. So it honed that list down to the six best-selling categories and added a small tab to link to another page to shop other categories. And it studied how things were set up on the back end. It found that storing numerous images on multiple servers around the country was inefficient, so it consolidated them onto one server to reduce the workload behind the scenes.

The redesign was a success. Toolfetch.com is one of 30 retailers on the Keynote Mobile Commerce Performance Index, a weekly mobile site measurement by mobile and web performance management firm Keynote Systems Inc. Toolfetch.com had ranked as low as No. 30; now it routinely ranks in the top 10. For the week ending Jan. 1, it ranked No. 2 with a load time of 4.64 seconds; the index average load time for the week was 9.04 seconds.

"Performance was the No. 1 part of the redesign," says Andrew Brown, co-founder and CEO of Toolfetch.com. "We didn't want to have a big splash image on the home page, which takes time to load. M-commerce and e-commerce are like dial-up modems and cable modems. You can design your e-commerce site with Flash but it will not come up quickly on a dial-up modem connection. It's the same with a mobile site, which travels over a wireless connection, not a fast landline link."

Whatever the goal, conducting a redesign should involve executives from multiple departments, the retailers with second-generation sites say, to ensure an m-commerce site meets all of a customer's needs.

Along with Cabell, the mobile redesign team at Crutchfield included senior web developers, user interface designers, the user experience team lead and the web analytics team lead.

"The first step was actually identifying what it was we were trying to achieve," Cabell says. "We laid out a series of objectives, then we watched users interact with the old site, and then we determined responsibilities for team members."

At The Sportsman's Guide, the mobile redesign team included e-commerce chief Arland, the head of information technology, marketing staff and web development staff.

"Once we decided which solution to go with, we got people from the marketing team to come up with the user experience, the page layout and the features, and we got the creative team involved with the page mockups, and the web development team with coding so we have internal control of the coding so anything we want to change is done by our own team," Arland explains. "We also had various associates throughout the company testing to make sure orders flowed through the site correctly."

Smartphone owners like to be wowed, but fancy design schemes must be balanced with site performance. The pace of change in mobile technology is only getting faster, and to succeed in mobile commerce, retailers must keep abreast of the latest design styles and features to change any m-commerce sites that become stale into fresh-faced shopping destinations.

bill@verticalwebmedia.com

@IRmcommerce

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