October 13, 2010, 3:32 PM

Mobile lesson plan: Fail fast and early

Two online retailers have learned from their mobile failures and successes.

Lead Photo

Todd Cabell

You learn from your mistakes, the cliché goes, and two online retailers explained today how they’ve learned from their mobile missteps—and from their early successes—at Internet Retailer’s Mobile Commerce Forum 2010 in Chicago.

Both agreed they had made mistakes, and learned from them. “I’m a big proponent of failing fast and early,” said Todd Cabell, senior manager of web strategy at Crutchfield Corp., a web and catalog retailer of car stereos and other electronics equipment. Cabell spoke with Kevin Ranford, vice president of online marketing for mobile and social media at online florist 1-800-Flowers.com Inc.

One error Crutchfield made was in designing an app for Apple Inc.’s iPhone that did just one thing, helping a consumer figure out how to play music from a mobile device through his car stereo. While the app has been downloaded 18,000 times, consumers have given it only a 2.5 rating out of five. And they have made clear in their comments that they want a Crutchfield app that allows them to shop the retailer’s entire product catalog.

“Our approach was too narrow,” Cabell told Internet Retailer’s inaugural mobile commerce conference today. “People were expecting to be able to shop for everything on the app.” Another error was that the app gave consumers no reason to use it more than once. He said as Crutchfield considers a new mobile app it will seek to give consumers a reason to use it again and again.

Crutchfield took a different approach with its mobile site, which, like its app, launched during the 2009 holiday season. Seeing that mobile consumers coming to its conventional e-commerce site—and mobile represented 3% of traffic to Crutchfield.com by August 2009—were buying all sorts of merchandise, the retailer offered its full product catalog on its mobile web site.

The results have been positive. Many consumers search the mobile web site, then use their phones to call in to place orders. Cabell says that’s fine with Crutchfield, No. 108 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide, because the retailer provides extensive training to its call center agents and is happy to have them interact with customers.

One miss, he said, is that the only rating information on the mobile site is the number of stars a product has received on average, not the actual comments customers make in their reviews. “Users definitely expect to access all the content and services from the web site,” he said. “Users are asking for, and expecting, access to more of the content on mobile. That presents challenges in terms of how were going to get that there.” He noted that a mobile screen offers only about 20% of the real estate of a PC screen, which means retailers have to make tough decisions about which products and content to feature on a mobile site.

Crutchfield has had mobile success, however. From March to September of this year mobile web traffic is up 170% and mobile web conversion up 30% over the same period last year.

1-800-Flowers.com has even more experience in the mobile arena, having introduced its first mobile site five years ago, Ranford said. In the past two and a half years, it has added mobile apps for Blackberry, iPhone and Android mobile phones.

One lesson it learned from a mistake was to make prominent the field where mobile shoppers can enter promotional codes, Ranford says.

A big win for the e-retailer has been consumers using mobile for last-minute gifts. As consumers have become more accustomed to accessing 1-800-Flowers, No. 40 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide via mobile devices, he says, their shopping behavior is less limited to last-minute purchases and includes more of the kind of browsing they do on the retailer’s conventional web site.

He also noted that mobile retail sites are tending to have a similar layout, with a home page featuring major product categories, and product detail pages that include an image and the option to scroll down for a description, and an add to cart button.

Consumers are being trained to expect that kind of layout, he noted. Another common feature of most mobile sites is a search box. 1800Flowers.com hasn’t offered site search, but is about to add that feature to its mobile site this week.

The two e-retailers both relied on outside vendors to help them get into mobile commerce, with 1800Flowers.com engaging Digby and Crutchfield employing Usablenet. Neither included that decision among their mistakes.


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