September 1, 2010, 2:39 PM goes solo for m-commerce

When it comes to mobile commerce, one small retailer thinks DIY.

Lead Photo, an online purveyor of gift baskets and other high-end consumables, is growing but still small compared to its competitors. So founder and president Ryan Abood needs to be thrifty. And business thrift often means taking on infrastructure projects internally.

Until this summer, Abood had not committed to mobile commerce, instead focusing on such other projects as adding content to its e-commerce site and improving the checkout process. But when mid-August numbers indicated 6% of total web traffic was mobile-based, it was time to act. GourmetGiftBaskets is now aiming for a November rollout of a homegrown mobile commerce site and then will begin building apps for Apple Inc.’s iPhone, phones using Google’s Android platform and Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry devices, probably in that order.

An indicator that customers were craving easier mobile shopping was a surge in orders from iPads since Apple released the tablet computer in April 2010. Abood didn’t reveal sales by device type but did note that around half of purchases from mobile devices now flow through iPads. IPhones represent a quarter of the company’s mobile sales, Android brings in roughly 20% of sales, and the remaining 5% comes from BlackBerrys and other devices, he says.

Accommodating mobile shoppers, even BlackBerry users, is especially important since those shoppers tend to be more serious about making a purchase if they’re browsing from their mobile devices, Abood says.

Convinced the time was right to lay out cash for mobile commerce tools, the next decision for executives at, No. 461 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, was which route to take: pay initial and ongoing fees for a commercial mobile commerce service or commission developers to build a platform would own. Abood is convinced the DIY route will be more cost-effective than a managed service in the long run.

Abood believes the software developers the company has commissioned can retool its web site for mobile commerce and produce apps for the top three mobile devices in 18 to 24 months. “This is not reinventing the wheel,” he says. “The people who are selling $150,000 mobile commerce kits will say this is so hard. In reality, it’s not.”

The project is going well so far, Abood says. “We’re cranking on this mobile site, through heavy duty rewrites of CSS (Cascading Style Sheets),” he says. A priority is to rewrite the web site’s checkout software to add a second version. The platform will direct customers to a standard or mobile-compatible checkout lane based on which access device the program detects, he says. The key is to make sure the mobile checkout works for all types of mobile devices. fixed a mobile checkout glitch that popped up in April with the launch of the iPad, the tablet computer that some consider closer to a laptop than a mobile phone but which is largely built on technology Apple developed for the iPhone. The web site had initially appeared fine on iPhones and iPads, but then Apple changed one of its controls that translates letter values into number values. “Basically, you couldn’t check out with an iPad. It was just a stupid little code rendering thing where iPad translates something differently” than other devices, Abood says.

With a major web site retooling underway to improve mobile compatibility, Abood’s ongoing concern is making sure his company’s new mobile tools, and whichever apps it delivers later, will match what’s happening in the ever-changing mobile device market. “In the last 40 to 50 days since we commissioned this project, the world has just gotten more complex,” he says, noting that while iPads access more than any other mobile device, Android phones are gaining ground. “You optimize something for a 400-pixel screen, and then somebody comes out with a 600-pixel screen.”

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