June 5, 2013, 12:07 PM

The American Red Cross strives for more mobile power

An IRCE speaker tells how the nonprofit gained e-commerce wisdom.

Lead Photo

The tornados that hit Oklahoma in recent weeks reinforced for The American Red Cross the same lesson that online retailers are learning: go big on mobile. That’s because about 50% of the organization’s site traffic during the weather disasters came from mobile devices, says Craig Oldham, vice president of digital engagement for American Red Cross.

He spoke this morning at the 2013 Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition in Chicago during a featured address entitled “When consumers come, you gotta let ‘em in.”  He described why the nonprofit group last year built a single e-commerce platform based on Oracle Corp.’s ATG Web Commerce On Demand technology. The new platform replaced e-commerce technology from multiple vendors to operate more than 500 web sites for its local chapters.

The previous situation led to growing chaos, and not just because of the various sites. “Everyone was empowered to start a Facebook page or Twitter account,” Oldham said. “It was just unmanageable.”

That’s not to say the national organization assumed complete control of location operations, which help drive disaster response efforts and blood drives through their on-the-ground knowledge—overall, the American Red Cross annually responds to some 70,000 disasters, some as small as house fires, Oldham said. Rather, the national group, via the new site, could better set a general tone and “synch” online marketing messages, with the digital effort personalized by regional need, he said. For instance, site visitors located in Florida are more likely to see information about hurricane preparedness than are consumers in California.

And the single e-commerce platform enables the national organization to have a more complete view of site visitors, including potential donors. “We’re bringing databases together to have a 360-degree view” of them, Oldham said.

Looking ahead, the American Red Cross hopes to improve its Internet power by better enabling consumers to donate through routes besides the nonprofit’s site, he said. That might include donations via corporate partners or ones given during e-retail transactions. A consumer might “buy a sweater and a pair of shoes and give $5 to the Red Cross, just like you would at a grocery store,” Oldham said.

The future also could bring more mobile apps from the Red Cross, including ones focused on preparing for storms, and multimedia mobile features that enable donations. “People don’t want to send us checks anymore,” he said.

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