October 14, 2011, 8:36 AM

Mobile Commerce Forum Report: Ease of use is a must for mobile sites

Charming Shoppes ran usability tests to isolate issues, and uncovered fixes.

Lead Photo

Ken Mowry

Ken Mowry, senior vice president of marketing for Charming Shoppes Inc.'s Charming Direct, readily admits that the company’s first attempt at a mobile site was half-hearted, but said the company, which operates apparel web sites and stores for plus-sized women including Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug and Catherines, quickly learned that it needed to better satisfy the consumers visiting via the mobile web.

“Shame on us for taking the path of least resistance when we launched our mobile site,” he said this week at Internet Retailer’s Mobile Commerce Forum in Houston. “But now we realize we have to do things that make for the right customer experience, regardless of the form they come to us on.”

The retailer decided to embark on a mobile site design attuned to users’ needs, rather than what was easier for the company to manage. It wanted to take many of the same shopping tools from the web site and recreate them for the mobile web, while also making sure mobile consumers found them useful.

One tool that bridges the web site and mobile web site is a universal shopping cart that the retailer introduced for its brands on the web in early 2010. “It was hugely successful for us on the web and we transitioned it to mobile,” Mowry said. “We wanted to create more cross-brand interaction so we could increase share of wallet by offering consumers options if they wanted to trade up or down among our brands.”

But whereas on the web the universal shopping cart tabs include the retail brand name, usability testing conducted in a lab setting with consumers showed that it crowded the small screens of mobile phones. Instead, on mobile, the company uses icons to represent the different brands.

Usability tests also revealed that consumers wanted a larger search box and to see large photos of the products available for sale, even if only two or three were visible without scrolling, rather than have lots of smaller images they had to click to expand. Mowry said Charming Shoppes customers are price-conscious, so it makes sure prices are viewable with every image, and it emphasizes sale prices by showing the previous price along and the current sale price.

The retailer also incorporated the mobile sites of other apparel retailers in the tests it ran with consumers. “It’s always important to capture your competitors in the industry because they may be doing something different or intriguing, so it’s good to see what customers have to say about you and your competitors,” Mowry said. For example, a video shown during the presentation showed a woman browsing the mobile site of apparel retailer Express.com and commenting that she liked how she could quickly scan the many styles of jeans it sells online through pictures.   

Mowry said Charming Shoppes will continue testing to inform the refinements it makes on the mobile web. Charming Shoppes is No. 132 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide.

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