February 12, 2014, 3:02 PM

How Rue La La stays ahead of mobile shoppers

The members-only retailer designs for mobile first, building apps that help shoppers close limited-time sales in as few clicks as possible from wherever they may be, Rue La La’s chief technology officer says. More than half its sales in 2014 will be from mobile devices, she said.

Amy Dusto

Associate Editor

Lead Photo

A screenshot of Rue La La's iPhone app.

Although the vast majority of members-only flash sales retailer Rue La La’s non-desktop transactions are on the iPhone or iPad, it still devotes effort to developing a dedicated Android app, according to chief technology officer Susan Standiford.

“A lot of people are trying to figure out when you commit to native Android app development,” she said in a presentation at the IRCE Focus: Web Design + Mobile Commerce conference in Orlando today. Native apps refer to apps designed expressly for one particular mobile operating system, usually Apple’s iOS or Google Inc.’s Android. “From a consumer-centric perspective, we’ve found it’s better if you can tailor your app to the form factor of the device,” she said

This year, Rue La La expects more than half of its revenue to come from mobile devices, with tablets continuing to move towards dominating the mobile share, Standiford said. In her session, titled, “How app development stays one step ahead of mobile shoppers at Rue La La,” she described Rue La La’s method of planning for mobile and staying on top of the latest developments.

 “You have to elevate mobile as a real strategy for the business,” she said. “I cannot underscore that enough.” By thinking about mobile-first development, Rue La La is never catching up after the fact to translate a new web site feature for smaller screens, she said.

The company debuted its first mobile web site in 2009 and first mobile app in 2010—the retailer employed many outside consultants to help build apps for smartphones and tablets. Eventually though, it built up its own in-house team of experts because mobile clearly emerged as one of the fastest-growing pieces of the business, Standiford said. Having its own mobile development staff allows the retailer to move quickly and work on multiple mobile projects at once.

Rue La La also set up a council of key staff in areas across the business, called a product council, which meets twice monthly to plan and prioritize on mobile development, Standiford said. That helps ensure projects are finishing on time and that the mobile sites and apps are always fresh. It also helps  Rue La La get insights from many parts of its business so that it isn’t building features for an app, but for customers who use the app as a means to shop, she adds. “Relentlessly focus on the customer,” she said. “Don’t do anything for the app’s sake.”

For instance, the retailer added a Google Wallet checkout integration to its Android app this summer that allows shoppers on those smartphones to make purchases without entering any payment information. That helped solve a customer service request, making it easier to complete purchases from a mobile device. “Ideas for product or site development don’t have to come from one person,” Standiford said. Part of thinking mobile-first means that the marketing team or customer service agents may request a mobile feature or function as easily as an app developer, she said. The retailer uses responsive web design—which uses one set of web site code that adapts to serve content according to the screen size on which it is loading—for its desktop and mobile sites.

The product council at Rue La La comes up with a set of goals around metrics for customer acquisition, app engagement, downloads and conversions to guide its mobile development, Standiford said. That way, its mobile apps don’t end up as clones of the web, she said.

Regardless of what mobile project Rue La La is working on, constantly testing that the features work properly and that the goals are being met is crucial, Standiford said. The retailer also regularly sends its developers to Apple Inc. and Google Inc. to get advice on their work from the experts at those technology providers’ headquarters, she said.

RueLaLa.com is No. 11 in the 2014 Mobile 500 guide.

 

 

 

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