August 2, 2011, 9:05 AM

Power users prefer mobile apps, an MCF speaker says

Office Depot built its mobile app with speed and convenience in mind.

Lead Photo

Barry Litwin

Office supplies retailer Office Depot Inc. launched its mobile commerce site in November and a mobile app in March. The two mobile purchasing channels are attracting different types of customers, says Barry Litwin, vice president of global e-commerce. At the Mobile Commerce Forum 2011 in Houston Oct. 10-12, Litwin will explain how Office Depot developed its app strategy, and the results, in a session entitled “Creating the mobile apps consumers want to use.

“For power users, the mobile app is becoming the tool of choice,” he says. “For casual users, we see a lot of folks migrating to the mobile commerce platform.” In many cases, he says, the consumers who wind up on the mobile commerce site start out on a search engine like Google, and navigate from there to the mobile site of Office Depot, No. 5 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

Office Depot put a lot of work into making its app, now available for both iPhone and Android devices, fast and convenient. To make it as fast as possible, the retailer’s I.T. department developed its own mobile engine, so that the app can directly link to Office Depot’s back-end systems. That reduces any latency that can occur when a mobile user connects through a third party; Office Depot’s mobile commerce site, for example, operates on a platform from Akamai Technologies Inc. that adds another step when a customer makes a request from the mobile site.

Office Depot also added features aimed at maximizing convenience for its most valuable retail customers, office managers at small and midsized companies. Customers can buy directly from the app, without being redirected to the mobile site. And if they’re in an Office Depot store, they can scan an item’s bar code with their camera’s phone, view product information on the phone and purchase it on the spot, getting free shipping if the purchase is over $50. There’s also a shopping list in the app that syncs with the customer’s web site shopping list, so that anything she adds through the mobile app appears when she returns to on her office computer.

“Our customers have overwhelmingly told us this is a great app,” Litwin says. “It’s very rare that you launch something and get such positive comments.”

By the conference, he will have more data to share on how Office Depot’s customers are using its mobile apps. The retailer is about to release a new app for its customers from larger companies and government agencies that includes features from the Office Depot web site they use, such as rules about how much various employees can order without approval. Once that app is released, Litwin says, Office Depot plans to study how customers are using its apps, with an eye toward determining whether there are features in one app that customers would like in the other.

Internet Retailer’s editors asked Litwin to speak because he leads strategic planning, online merchandising, functional innovation, site usability and design, and web analytics for Office Depot Inc.'s $4.1 billion web business. Previously, he was senior vice president, marketing and e-commerce for Newark Electronics, a division of Premier Farnell, where he led multi-channel marketing, digital marketing, and e-commerce development.

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