June 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

Up the mobile ladder

(Page 2 of 3)

At Market America/Shop.com, Ashley oversees two teams of four developers each. One team is working on an online video project not initially related to mobile but that may eventually play a part in mobile shopping apps. The other team is the day-to-day group that maintains and evolves the site and apps.

HSN's Deutscher manages a diverse 10-member team that has expertise in technology, customer experience, marketing and merchandising. HSN is No. 58 in the Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce Top 300 with Internet Retailer-estimated 2011 mobile sales of $10.6 million. It offers an m-commerce site, numerous smartphone and tablet apps, text messaging, and QR codes. Deutscher declines to reveal his budget but says "the company is heavily invested in mobile—mobile is a cornerstone of our opportunity. We want to be a leader in the space and we have the necessary funding and people to support that business."

While each of the mobile chiefs has a team to lead, he also has a supervisor to whom he reports. McGee reports to the executive director of alternative channels, who McGee says "hired me and brought me to Texas because she saw the potential that mobile can bring to the bottom line."

Steve Ashley reports to the chief operating officer, Marc Ashley, who also happens to be his brother. "I show him where the industry is going, and the good thing about Marc is he is a hands-on user," Steve says. "He'll be one of the first people to tell me if there is something good or bad about an app."

Deutscher reports to Reilly, the senior vice president of digital platforms. Deutscher says he and Reilly are on the same wavelength. "We look at mobile as one of the overall opportunities within our digital arsenal, which is e-commerce, mobile and connected TV, also known as shop by remote," Deutscher says. "We ensure the technology we deliver is a common framework that is sustainable across any screen."

Reaching out

Besides supervisors and subordinates, mobile executives must work with many others in their organizations.

"We work with a large number of people—from I.T. to marketing and advertising and creative and brand and legal and security and privacy," Dell's McGee says. Since he doesn't manage personnel in those areas, McGee has to persuade them of the merit of mobile initiatives. "It really is about sharing the strategy and what we are looking to accomplish and then garnering their support and resources to help us execute that strategy," he says.

While Ashley works with various executives, he says his closest relationship is with the I.T. team. "From our I.T. leader I need to know every single project they are working on, so I'm a part of any major launch or any organizational priorities meeting," he says. "If something will change on the web site I need to know how that affects mobile."

Working with the marketing team is also key, he adds. "I have to make sure that when people go to the site they know Market America has a mobile app and the other mobile products we have," he says. "We have to make sure it is communicated in e-mails to our consumers so they download the product and use it."

Day to day, Deutscher works closely with the three senior vice presidents responsible for marketing, creative and merchandising. "Folks recognize mobile is an extension of our brand," he says. "With merchandising expertise, for instance, we understand the types of products customers are buying through our mobile platforms and assort them correctly to drive our opportunity in personalization and overall commerce goals."

For example, with the help of the merchandising team, Deutscher and his team have launched specials exclusive to mobile. In one case, HSN ran a Lanc™me beauty products flash sale only on mobile while the brand was being featured on the HSN TV channel. Also with the help of merchandising, HSN has featured mobile home page content designed to drive shoppers to specific categories, including electronics. Data have shown these categories strongly resonate with customers shopping the mobile commerce site, Deutscher says.

The keys

Achieving goals requires expert insights into what makes m-commerce tick. McGee believes the most important action an m-commerce chief can take is distilling an e-commerce site's crucial elements and bringing it to an m-commerce site and app.

Deutscher stresses that m-commerce directors should also focus squarely on mobile performance. Consumers expect sites and apps to load pages quickly, correctly and fully.

"No one is going to wait on their phone if a page is taking more than 10 seconds to load," he says. "As a person I want to take full advantage of my downtime. If a site is slow, I abandon it."

That's why Deutscher's team is focused on ensuring the site is highly optimized for performance. For instance, they reduced the total number of JavaScript and Cascading Style Sheet, or CSS, files, which in turn reduced the time it takes to render mobile site pages. A CSS is an HTML-based template that defines where various objects, such as images or text boxes, appear on a web page.

The team also eliminated unnecessary redirects. A redirect sends a smartphone's page request from one URL to another to find the right content. And HSN has contracted with Akamai Technologies, which stores HSN mobile web content on servers across the country so the content needed to render a page is as geographically close to a shopper as possible.

A student of the industry

When it comes to handing out advice to newly appointed mobile commerce chiefs, Ashley says new chiefs must become students of the m-commerce industry.

"They need to download apps that are relevant from competitors in their industry. Who does things right and what elements are missing? They need to capitalize on both," he says.

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