October 4, 2013, 4:25 PM

‘Mobile first’ thinking pays off in fast m-commerce growth

The retailers growing the fastest in the Mobile 500 reach a broad range of shoppers.

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All 500 retailers ranked in Internet Retailer’s 2014 Mobile 500 have invested in mobile commerce, either building a mobile-optimized e-commerce site, a smartphone or tablet app or a combination of the three. But the retailers that are growing the fastest are the ones that have recognized the power of mobile commerce, the ability to reach a broader range of shoppers and reach them more frequently, and made it a priority. That “mobile first” philosophy has paid off for several retailers in this year’s guide, leading to them posting some of the top mobile sales growth rates.

This group of fastest-growing mobile merchants is not limited to just e-commerce juggernauts, well-established U.S. retailers, or major brands, but instead consists of a mix of smaller, medium-sized and bigger retailers, and European, South American, Asian as well as North American companies from various shopping categories. The common thread: all have made a concerted effort to be the mobile commerce leaders in their space.

When Market America, No. 250 in the Mobile 500, acquired Shop.com in December 2010 the company knew Shop.com had serious potential as a mobile sales engine, but also knew the site needed to be completely mobilized. The retailer first joined the mobile realm when it launched a mobile-optimized version of MarketAmerica.com in 2010, but the mobile sales really streamed in when it debuted the mobile version of Shop.com, which is fully integrated with MarketAmerica.com in February 2013.

The retailer now understands the need to start each site design with mobile as the priority, says Steve Ashley, vice president of mobile and social products and internet marketing. “We are truly a mobile-first company,” Ashley says. “We developed a responsive design site from the smartphone level first, then tablet, and then desktop.” Responsive design refers to a site’s ability to automatically format its layout to the size of the screen on which it is being viewed, regardless of its dimensions. The model led to a whopping 571% growth in mobile sales, the biggest increase in the Mobile 500, to about $7.4 million in 2013.

Ashley says that about 70% of Market America’s mobile sales come from tablets and 30% from smartphones. While the site’s design is prioritized for Apple’s iOS, the software in iPhones and iPads, Ashley says he has a table in his office that holds 15 different mobile devices so he can constantly monitor Shop.com’s performance on each device. The retailer plans on launching separate mobile URLs in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia and the U.K. that are similar to its m-commerce sites in the U.S. and Canada.

Men’s apparel flash site Jackthreads.com, No. 88 in the Mobile 500, grew the second fastest in the rankings. Its mobile sales in 2013 will jump nearly 357% to $37 million in 2013. Founder and CEO Jason Ross says that mobile sales accounted for 15-20% of the retailer’s overall e-commerce revenue in 2012 and that will grow to about 50% by the end of 2013. Ross says tablet and smartphone apps are the source of 90% of the retailer’s mobile commerce sales, with the rest coming from its mobile-optimized site which was developed after the app. Jackthreads initially partnered with an outside firm to develop the first iOS app in January 2012, but the company quickly brought the operation in-house. Last week, Jackthreads launched its first Android app, which accounted for 5% of the retailer’s overall sales within the first two days of its launch. Ross believes the Android offering will help Jackthreads maintain the same explosive mobile commerce sales grow over the next few years.

The same commitment to mobile commerce has also been extremely beneficial to smaller retailers in the U.S. as well as retailers in international markets. Six of the ten fastest-growing mobile retailers are based in countries other than the U.S.: MediaShopping.it (No. 67), Netshoes (No. 142), Metro Group (No. 64), Vente-Privee (No. 6), Tengelmann (No. 304), and N Brown Group (No. 34).  The four U.S. retailers are Market America, Jackthreads, Groupon Goods (No. 5) and RealTruck.com (No. 304).

RealTruck, which launched e-commerce in 1998, debuted its first mobile site in 2011, aiming to capitalize on its customers’ increasing smartphone use. While the retailer, which will net $4.5 million in mobile sales this year, says its shoppers are still more comfortable buying on a tablet or PC because of the complicated nature of shopping for auto parts, marketing director Clay Kraby still understands the importance of providing mobile sites that render well on phones as well as tablets. “While we have higher traffic from smartphones, tablets account for more mobile sales,” Kraby says. “And the average order value from tablets is higher than it is for our normal site.” Kraby says his small company currently does not have a dedicated mobile team in place, but says that might change if the current trend continues.

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