June 1, 2007, 12:00 AM

Gulliver’s shoppers

Mobile mini-shopping mall seeks maximum revenue from minimal effort

Less is more, they say. And mobile web browsing is a good example of this old chestnut: too many bells and whistles, too much required effort, too much anything can kill a mobile web site in a flash. In this case, downsizing is a good thing.

New mobile web shopping mall Digby knows that to be successful with less screen space demands less effort by shoppers-it is its reason for being.

“Using a browser on a phone can be painful,” says Steve Slezak, marketing director at 30 Second Software, which operates Digby. “At the same time, we are seeing an explosion in the use of high-end phones as people who are on the go are looking to do more with their phones, including make purchases. But if it takes them more than a minute to complete a transaction, they won’t do it.”

30-second countdown

Hence the name of the company. The m-commerce technology and services vendor aims to simplify the m-commerce process and make it more inviting for consumers to make purchases via mobile communications devices. It created Digby with an eye on substantially reducing the level of complexity associated with completing an online purchase, reducing it to a 30-second transaction.

Browsing through the mini-mall, shoppers find merchandise in 13 categories, with one or two retailers in each category. Digby offers mostly gift-oriented products. Shops include Godiva Chocolatier, FTD Florist, Vermont Teddy Bear and Capalbo’s Gift Baskets.

Digby, currently accessible only via Blackberry devices (the company plans to expand hardware options), sets its sights on the fast set that talk on their phones or text message as they conduct personal or professional business. But is the market ready for a mobile mini-mall, and can the company get the word out fast enough to make a go of it?

While Digby indeed is a pioneer, retailers should be cautious, says Nikki Baird, senior analyst of consumer markets at Forrester Research Inc. “There is the risk they may be a little too early to market. There is bound to be a learning curve regarding just what people want to shop for on their mobile phones. Even online merchants who have been in business for years are still trying to figure this out.”

Digby is counting on the ability to get ahead of the m-commerce market so when the market explodes, as many experts believe it will, the mall will have the edge. A recent Forrester report, co-authored by Baird, showed only 12% of U.S. households with mobile phones use their carriers’ data services. That number, however, is expected to grow rapidly-three-quarters of U.S. households own at least one mobile phone. The study also found that members of Generation Y (roughly, people in their 20s) are the most likely to use their phones to send and receive text messages, buy or download content, and use the mobile Internet.

30 Second Software is poised ahead of the trend. With Digby, the m-commerce technology vendor takes information gathered when customers register to use the service and integrates it with data already stored in their Blackberrys. For example, customers register their credit card information and addresses so information does not have to be entered again when making purchases. And if customers want to send a gift, rather than typing in the recipient’s name and address, the purchaser can instruct the program to get recipients’ information from the Blackberry’s address book.

Address book integration

“The average Blackberry owner has an index with about 300 names and addresses,” Slezak says. “We leverage that information by integrating the data into our program.”

Another way Digby attempts to reduce hassle associated with shopping via mobile device is by grouping products and arranging them in a way that makes it easier to find items compared with typical methods used on the big web.

Retailers send 30 Second Software electronic files of products they select to offer on Digby. The software company takes the files and creates and manages the catalog for the mobile commerce site. It also ensures content is up to date based on instructions from retailers.

When a customer clicks on a category, products appear on the screen. In most cases, in order to keep the shopping experience simple, customers are presented with limited choices. With Godiva and FTD, for example, offerings on Digby are limited to top-selling items and seasonal offerings.

Slezak says limiting selection does not hamper a retailer’s sales potential. “Our vendors tell us 80% of their sales come from a limited set of products, so we only offer those products in the mall,” he says.

The idea is that customers who need to send out a quick box of chocolates or bouquet of flowers don’t need the hundreds of options available on shops’ e-commerce sites. A quick view of the most popular sellers in a small range of prices and sizes fits most needs, Slezak says.

At Godiva, for example, the best sellers on Digby are boxes of assorted chocolates and gift baskets, the same items that are most popular on its e-commerce site. “We have put on Digby the items we think our customers are most likely to want,” says Beth Sash, business director of e-commerce and direct marketing. In addition, Godiva also is promoting one of its new chocolate lines-Decadence-on Digby with a promotion called “Decadence Goes Mobile.”

Digby gift shops regularly change product selection to reflect the seasonal nature of their businesses. In April, for example, retailers were taking Easter-related chocolates and flowers out of the mini-shops and introducing Mother’s Day and spring offerings.

While gift-oriented retailers serve up limited selections, a few others, such as those that sell books and CDs, give shoppers a wider selection. Shoppers, for example, can search through a multitude of books by title, author or topic. “There is no way we can display all books people are likely to buy, so we have to accommodate a full search on these items,” Slezak explains.

In general, whatever the product, shopping via mobile phone can skew toward impulse buys. “I was in Starbucks the other day and they were playing music from a musician who I had not heard in a long time. I was able to pull out my Blackberry, call up Digby, type in the musician’s name and order the CD right there in Starbucks. We call that a Digby moment,” Slezak says.

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