December 3, 2012, 1:34 PM

Why shouldn’t a site look and feel like an app?

Online jeweler Ice launches a slick, HTML5-infused m-commerce site.

Lead Photo

The e-retailer's m-commerce site features fixed navigation bars at the top and bottom of every page that make it appear like an app.

Retailers can create shopping features and functions that are faster and more powerful through a mobile commerce app than through an m-commerce site because an app resides on a smartphone or tablet and can make use of all of a device’s technology. A site’s capabilities are limited because it resides on a retailer’s servers.

But that hasn’t stopped web-only jeweler Ice.com Inc. from launching an m-commerce site that resembles an app in appearance, navigation and functionality. Ice, No. 323 in the Internet Retailer Mobile 400, used the advanced web programming language HTML5 to create the site. Elements of HTML5 enable programmers to reach into a smartphone and use the device’s technology to provide for richer, faster shopping. An HTML5 mobile web site cannot do everything an app can, but Ice shows it can provide a convincing replication.

The most noticeable feature of the Ice m-commerce site, accessible by typing in Ice.com on any smartphone, is a black navigation bar that appears at the bottom of the screen on every page of the site. It mirrors the navigation bar found in many apps, making the site appear as if it were an app. The bar features buttons for Home, Shop, Bag, Wish and More. Similarly, a bar atop the page stays fixed in place even when scrolling down on the page. This bar features the Ice logo and four buttons: Featured, New, Gifts and Search.

“Our philosophy was if it’s good for the goose, it’s good for the gander,” says Shmuel Gniwisch, CEO of Ice. “Why should an app be more interesting than a mobile site? Our new mobile site is very similar in many ways to the mobile app. Why do people create apps then go to a mobile site and it’s very different? If it’s good for the app it should be good for the mobile site.”

Ice began redirecting select smartphone shoppers from its e-commerce site to its m-commerce site on Nov. 6 and slowly began ramping up the number of types of smartphones going to the mobile site. It wanted to test the site until it gained complete confidence in its design. Today any consumer on any smartphone who types in Ice.com or links to it from a search result or e-mail is directed to the mobile site. Between Nov. 6 and Nov. 30, 125,000 smartphone users shopped the mobile site; that number would have been twice as big had Ice redirected all smartphone traffic to the mobile site from the beginning, Ice says.

Gniwisch declines to reveal sales or conversion figures but describes conversion as “great” and says it is growing week over week.

22.5% of Ice’s total traffic is mobile; 14% from smartphones and 8.5% from tablets, he says. More than 70% of mobile traffic stems from an Apple Inc. device. To get more traffic, Ice has begun testing the use of mobile paid search ads and mobile display ads. Ice says it is too early in the testing to share results but says mobile advertising holds a lot of potential.

Ice also offers an iPhone and Android shopping app, one that includes augmented reality technology that enables a customer to virtually “try on” a ring or bracelet. It launched the app late last year. Usually in mobile commerce, retailers launch a site first to get the most reach and then consider an app for a particular slice of the smartphone pie. Because in 2011 Gniwisch knew Ice was on its way to a new e-commerce platform (which it launched in June 2012), he decided to keep his I.T. team focused on the platform while he outsourced the development of the app to a team in India under his lead.

He also says the desire to be innovative with the “try on” use of augmented reality technology, something that can’t be replicated on an m-commerce site, drove the decision to go app first. Consumers use the “try on” functionality in the app between 500 and 1,000 times a day, Ice reports.

Regarding the new site, Ice has high hopes.

“Ultimately we have pretty ambitious goals for all of our mobile products,” says Jonathan Kowit, president and chief marketing officer. “Traffic is growing exponentially, and we expect revenue to grow exponentially.”

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