October 3, 2013, 2:30 PM

Mobile commerce blasts off

(Page 3 of 4)

Reaching out to core shoppers, especially younger consumers, is what's driving mobile commerce efforts at Shop Direct, the U.K. direct retailer. Prior to the launch of m-commerce and with only a rudimentary e-commerce program, Shop Direct's core shopper was primarily a woman who liked shopping print catalogs and submitting orders by phone and through the mail. But today with new e-commerce sites, such as Very.co.uk, which Shop Direct launched in 2009 as a digital department store featuring designer brands from well-known British celebrities, the company is using mobile to reach an entire new generation of younger shoppers while also appealing to older tablet shoppers. In 2011 Shop Direct launched a mobile-optimized version of Very.co.uk, a move that quickly netted a big jump in traffic. Using its Very brand as a base, Shop Direct has added multiple mobile commerce sites and apps for its other brands such as Isme, which targets mature, fashion-conscious apparel shoppers, and Littlewoods, another women's apparel brand.

Shop Direct's online retailing program today includes an even bigger emphasis on mobile commerce, Wall says. Shop Direct has updated its mobile commerce sites with easier navigation that features more prominent department listings and daily deals. Mobile product pages also feature larger photos and product zoom, customer reviews and videos. Sites optimized for tablets also display new features such as product zoom.

Over time, Shop Direct has developed and launched an internal e-commerce procedure test and web site usability department that each month conducts up to 20 mobile tests such as tracking eye movement to improve tablet navigation, Wall says. "As a former cataloger that has completely transformed our business model, innovation now runs through our veins," Wall says.

Shop Direct and other big mobile commerce merchants say they must evaluate mobile initiatives in a new way because smartphone and tablet shoppers have different mindsets than desktop shoppers. Smartphone shoppers tend to be on the go, react quicker to daily deals and make instant buying decisions, says Brian Klais, CEO of mobile marketing firm Pure Oxygen Labs. Many tablet owners, he says, expect an experience that's more in line with browsing and buying through traditional e-commerce on a personal computer, but in a more relaxed setting. "Tablets are the perfect couch companion for browsing and buying," he says.

While desktop, smartphone and tablet shoppers have different mindsets, a mobile technology called responsive web design allows retailers to design a single site that will adapt to to the size of the screen the consumer is using.

Forty of the retailers in the Internet Retailer Mobile 500 have created responsive sites that automatically adjust to fit the screen size of any device, including desktops, smartphones, tablets and smart TVs. Retailers taking the responsive approach often use the web programming language HTML5, which makes it easier for designers to alter the size of images and other web site elements based on screen size, and designate which elements will appear on which screens. On a smartphone, for example, a retailer might strip out elements like About Us or complex navigation options that work well on PCs but not on smaller screens.

Responsive design and HTML5 enable merchants to take a more universal approach to e-commerce, says Scott Kincaid, vice president of user experience at Usability Sciences Corp.

"These days there's better technology and web design tools and codes that make it much easier for merchants to streamline mobile across all devices," Kincaid says. "There are now ways to tear down the walls that used to exist between the desktop, smartphones and tablets."

Among the retailers tearing going this route is Tory Burch, which debuted a responsive site in 2012. The fashion brand's mobile sales are estimated to increase 171% to about $49 million in 2013.

Tablet shoppers are a key driver of mobile sales, says chief marketing officer Miki Berardelli. Smartphones still generate about 60% of mobile traffic, but the average ticket on a tablet sale is about $300, about 23% higher than the average smartphone sale ticket. Meanwhile, at 2%, the average conversion rate on tablets is four times better than the 0.5% average rate for smartphones, the company says. About 75% of new mobile traffic comes from tablets, primarily iPads.

"Tablets are a big growth driver for us," Berardelli says. "Tablets let us create a very sophisticated shopping experience we can use both online and in stores."

Tory Burch launched its first tablet app in 2011. With much of its mobile success coming from tablets, Tory Burch is expanding its features and functions for iPad and Android tablets. Tory Burch recently updated its tablet-optimized site and its tablet app with more fashion and lifestyle news and videos, added more limited-edition items and other specialty products, and added a geolocation feature that helps find the nearest store.

To carry the tablet experience into its stores, Tory Burch purchased more than 400 iPads, and trained sales associates in its 91 stores to use the mobile devices to help shoppers find the style, size and color of a garment they're looking for, if they're not in stock in the store. An employee can use the iPad to order an item for a customer, and Tory Burch offers free shipping to the customer's home if the store doesn't have the item she wants. "Mobile commerce is a real bridge between our Internet channel and stores," Berardelli says

Mobile commerce also serves as a bridge between TV and the web for web and TV retailers HSN and QVC. QVC will generate Internet Retailer-estimated global mobile sales of $1 billion in 2013, while in the U.S. QVC says mobile commerce now accounts for about 28% of all e-commerce sales.

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