February 28, 2008, 12:00 AM

E-commerce on the move

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1-800-Flowers.com hired Usablenet to build the mobile site. The retailer used the mobile sites of Amazon.com and some of the major airlines as benchmarks, aiming for simplicity and speed. Internally it created a cross-functional team of marketing, merchandising, I.T. and customer service staff members to guide content and features.

“One of the biggest things we learned was customers want to check the status of their orders-that’s a big reason they come to the standard web site,” Prasad explains. “So we made that a key feature on the mobile site, to make checking orders as easy as possible.”

Learning what makes a good mobile web site is not necessarily easy, but it’s time to start learning, experts say.

“This is not an experience you will get right the first time,” says Norman M. Sadeh, associate professor and director of the Mobile Commerce Lab at Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science. “But if you wait too long you will miss the opportunity to go through a trial-and-error phase, which is key. We have seen a lot of companies say we know our competitors are bound to do this and we know it is not going to be easy, so we should make any mistakes now so we can be out there successfully that much sooner.”

But some are just not happy with what can be done on a mobile web site today and hope for a brighter tomorrow in m-commerce where shoppers can browse complete web sites wherever they may be.

“Mobile-optimized sites are very dumbed-down, basic versions of web sites that remind me of web sites from the early 1990s,” says Patrick Flanagan, director of product management, retail technology, at ShopLocal LLC, a shopping portal that nonetheless offers a mobile-optimized site because, executives say, ShopLocal must be where shoppers are going. “The mobile devices are not there yet. But the iPhone is really changing that.”

Even if the mobile sites of today remind some e-commerce executives of the basic web sites of yesteryear, these executives can look to yesteryear for lessons on how to move forward with m-commerce here and now, says Umang Gupta, CEO of Keynote Systems Inc., an Internet and mobile performance management research and technology firm.

“It’s like a web presence years ago when the Internet took off-you really were at a disadvantage if you did not take off early. With mobile, you need to do it,” Gupta says. “There are a lot fewer consumers ready to do m-commerce, but it doesn’t mean you should forgo it, it just means you should have a presence, getting the brand out there, and creating a good user experience and gradually building from there.”

It all boils down to convenience, says Biddle of Netflix. “Increasingly, Internet activity isn’t just on your PC. It’s very important to note that the Internet is moving onto phones and TVs and even cars,” he says. “Shoppers want the convenience of handling things now, and that is what mobile devices offer.”



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