May 13, 2010, 2:30 PM

Mobile software provider WorkLight has a new target: e-commerce

WorkLight recently began working with e-commerce companies to make their web sites compatible with mobile devices like smartphones or Apple Inc.’s iPads, and to launch applications for Facebook and other social media sites.

Founded in 2006, software provider WorkLight began helping companies build Web 2.0 applications and then branched out to bringing web services to mobile devices and social networks. One group missing from its roster of clients, however, has been e-commerce companies.

Last month, however, WorkLight announced that it had begun building a software solution for its first e-commerce client, the Best Western Hotel President in Berlin. Kurt Daniel, WorkLight’s chief operating officer, says that adding the capability to use iPhones, Android phones and other devices has made his company’s service more suitable for e-commerce. 

Before, the hotel had only an informational Best Western web site because it was worried about the cost of developing other web applications. In January, the hotel deployed the WorkLight software, allowing customers to book rooms on the hotel’s Facebook page. Zeev Rosenberg, the hotel’s general manager, says he’s seen a higher-than-expected use of the booking application, and that the hotel will shortly launch a new iPhone app. “We want to give our customers the opportunity to book the rooms from wherever they are.” Having a good web site is important, Rosenberg says, but today companies have to go much further.
WorkLight got into e-commerce almost by accident, Daniel says. A company executive met Worklight’s first customer on an airplane, and after getting the deployment started the vendor received inquiries from other e-commerce firms and decided to formalize its entry into the market.

WorkLight isn’t the only player looking to bring mobile technology to e-commerce firms. Other vendors such as m-commerce technology providers Usablenet and Digby offer similar services. But Brian Walker, an analyst with Forrester Research, Inc. believes there’s room in the industry for more providers. Today, most retailers say about 2% to 5% percent of their total web traffic comes from consumers using mobile devices, Walker says. “That’s a pretty meaningful amount of traffic,” he says.

Walker estimates that by the end of 2010, about 75% of online retailers will have mobile-friendly web sites, or at least begin to establish more channels whether it be apps on Facebook or the iPad. And he adds, even retailers that currently have some mobile capacity need help. About one-third of large retailers have an iPhone app, but most of these companies don’t allow users to perform tasks such as a full catalog search, Walker says.

Daniel says that when customers use mobile devices to access web sites, they often have frustrating experiences. For example, many times visitors have to continually resize the screen, which can be distracting if you’re searching for a product like a pair of jeans, he says. WorkLight can help resize a site for mobile phones, making sure it is the right size and has proper fonts suitable for a small screen. “It’s a much more digestible and user-friendly experience,” Daniel says.

WorkLight can host the software for a company or help a client install it in its own data center. Getting a mobile site or app and social network app up and running can take anywhere from two to four months. WorkLight’s fees can run as high as tens of thousands of dollars, says Daniel, who would not be more specific about pricing.

Daniel says WorkLight will soon add Blackberries to the list of mobile devices it supports. “It’s hard to predict which devices will become popular,” Daniel says. “But, we’re constantly adding more channels.”   

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