April 29, 2011, 12:22 PM

Rich and Speedy

(Page 3 of 3)

Part of the Office Depot mobile web services recipe for speed is the use of JavaScript Object Notation, or JSON, an open standard that transmits data efficiently between a web server and an app. The merchant says JSON helps filter superfluous data and transmit only what is needed for a given server request, thus speeding the process. Caching content complements JSON. Office Depot makes use of a smartphone's ability to store elements of an app so they are not required from the server every time an app user switches views. It caches product searches, guided navigation elements and the store locator on the device for one hour until it refreshes if needed.

Patagonia relies on its m-commerce provider to keep the app experience swift. Sprella says there are two primary ways of delivering data to an app. One is all at once, which makes for a slow app launch and home screen download, but very swift movement afterward. The other is piecemeal as needed, which makes for a quick launch but slightly slower responses afterward. To hasten Patagonia data, Sprella says it splits the difference.

"We achieve a fine balance between the two extremes," says Sunil Gowda, a principal at Sprella. "At launch, only the critical data required for launch is downloaded, and as you are browsing around the home screen, more data is downloaded in the background. As a result, by the time you navigate deeper within the app, the data is already available and ready to display immediately."

Sprella also uses Amazon.com Inc.'s CloudFront content delivery network for speed. The network stores all app data at locations near major cities throughout the United States so that data gets to consumers' phones more quickly. For instance, a Patagonia mobile customer in Seattle is getting data from Seattle, not from a server at Sprella's data center in St. Louis.

So a merchant can have the best of both worlds: richness and speed. And those are the two primary ingredients of a mobile app that can attract shoppers and encourage them to retain the app and use it regularly. Retailers that have identified an audience among their customer base that would welcome an app for a particular smartphone operating system must be creative, employing their creativity visually in front of the curtain and technically behind the scenes.

bill@verticalwebmedia.com

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