May 3, 2013, 12:06 PM

The number of Top 500 retailers active in mobile commerce doubles in 2012

322 of the merchants in the new Top 500 Guide have a mobile site or app.

Bill Siwicki

Managing Editor, Mobile Commerce

Lead Photo

Many leading e-retailers recognize the opportunity in mobile commerce, and that’s reflecting in a more than doubling of the number of Top 500 retailers with mobile sites or apps in the 2013 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. In 2012, 322 merchants of the merchants listed in the new version of the Top 500  operated a mobile commerce site or app compared with 135 in 2011 and 76 in 2010.

But some Top 500 retailers are embracing mobile commerce more aggressively than others and gaining shoppers—and sales—as a result.

RueLaLa.com (No. 76), which sells designer fashion for a limited time to registered shoppers, generated 16.9%—$67.5 million—of its overall 2012 e-commerce sales of $399.9 million from mobile commerce. For ShopNBC.com (No. 98), mobile sales reached $60.0 million in 2012, accounting for 22.4% of its e-commerce sales of $268.2 million. Flash-sale site Fab.com (No. 150) brought in around $45.0 million in mobile sales last year—30% of its Internet Retailer-estimated total of $150.0 million. M-commerce figures come from the Internet Retailer Mobile 400.

Mobile commerce is especially suited for private-sale sites such as RueLaLa.com because deals sell out quickly, and members rely on their smartphones and tablets to snag time-sensitive offers. But RueLaLa.com’s shoppers want to do a lot more with their mobile devices than just receive promotions and buy, says CEO Ben Fischman, and that’s why the e-retailer strives to keep up with the latest developments in mobile commerce technology..

Recognizing that mobile shoppers want to see, search and size apparel, RueLaLa.com released new mobile apps prior to the last holiday shopping season that let shoppers quickly determine the availability of their desired sizes and colors. Another new feature is a “Right Now” screen, which allows shoppers to learn immediately which items are selling out or already sold out, without having to navigate off the home screen. “It is our mantra to make certain that we are moving as quickly as our members when it comes to technology,” Fischman says.

ShopNBC.com made two major changes in mobile commerce in 2012 that it says contributed to increased mobile sales. First, in the summer the retailer launched a redesigned version of its m-commerce site that uses the advanced programming language HTML5, which helps make sites look and function more like apps. Among the functions enabled by HTML5 are expanding-and-collapsing menus, high-resolution images and scrolling promotions.

Making HTML5 the backbone for its m-commerce site also means less work trying to get the site to look the same across mobile operating systems, says Tom Kraus, vice president of content and commerce at ShopNBC.com. “It seems like it works on 99% of everything,” he says. Because HTML5 is a universal programming language, sites relying on it do not need to be adapted for each mobile operating system, he says.

And second, ShopNBC.com rolled out just before the 2012 holidays new checkout functionality for its m-commerce site and mobile apps. It took the mobile checkout process from four screens to one screen. “That was a major improvement for the mobile customer,” Kraus says. “We are making further checkout refinements this month, including adding PayPal Express for mobile. And we’re a week away from rolling out another enhancement to make customer account creation for new customers simpler on our mobile site.”

In fact, mobile drives the technology work at ShopNBC.com.

“Mobile-first thinking applies to everything we have been working on in terms of enhancements to our e-commerce site and mobile site and apps, the types of promotions we run, the content of e-mails—we look at everything and ask how will it look on a four-inch screen,” Kraus says. “Most of the enhancements to our e-commerce site have been done to support better tablet user interface. Mobile has been the driving force of most of the I.T. projects we have done in the last two years.”

And mobile commerce shows no signs of slowing down at ShopNBC.com. Kraus declines to reveal exact mobile traffic figures, but says traffic from smartphones and tablets is significant and growing fast.

“The percentage of mobile traffic is substantially above the 22.4% mobile sales estimate Internet Retailer has made,” Kraus says. “And it continues to double year over year, every year.”

Click here for more Top 500 Insider stories with analysis of key trends and technologies in Internet retailing.

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