The online retailer has spent nearly $300 million acquiring three shipping software vendors over the past nine months.
Artisan Mobile lets retailers make changes to apps that don’t require app store approval.
Investors see promise in a new approach to mobile app design and development from mobile app technology vendor Artisan Mobile. Its technology enables retailers and other businesses to make changes to mobile apps as often as they like without having to resubmit altered apps through app stores’ approval processes then wait for users to download app updates.
Artisan Mobile, which has begun marketing what it calls a mobile experience management platform, has raised $5.5 million in Series A financing led by FirstMark Capital. The investment will be used to expand sales and marketing efforts as well as accelerate product development, the company says. Artisan previously raised $1.5 million in a seed round also led by FirstMark Capital with participation by Artisan management and several angel investors.
“We are bringing to mobile apps what non-technical businesspeople have been able to do for years with web sites—quickly and easily make changes and immediately publish the changes directly to end users,” says Bob Moul, CEO of Artisan Mobile. “You’re not reworking code, resubmitting to the app store for approval, and then hoping users download your app update. We allow you to make changes to apps on the fly like you can do with web sites.”
Artisan Mobile technology depends on a software development kit, or SDK. A retailer embeds the Artisan SDK into its mobile app and submits the app to the app stores for approval. Once the SDK-enabled app update is approved and downloaded by users, the retailer can begin making changes on the fly. Artisan Mobile hosts the app design and content on its servers. A retailer executive uses a WizzyWig interface to make changes to the app. WizzyWig is a user-friendly style of editing that enables non-technical personnel to make changes to a site or app, while viewing on a screen how the site or app would look.
Once a retailer is finished with changes, it saves them on the Artisan servers. Then, the next time an app user requests a section of the app that has been changed, the app’s Artisan SDK pulls the refreshed content from the servers. Most apps rely on pulling updated data from servers via the web, such as an updated product data feed, for example. Artisan Mobile has built its app design and testing systems around this style of data delivery. Instead of hard coding changes to apps, which requires resubmission to an app store, Artisan is delivering changes via data streams from the web.
“It’s like having an app on remote control,” Moul says. “In today’s mobile world, you download an app to your phone and it doesn’t change unless you update that app. Artisan is delivering the app’s user interface dynamically from the cloud instead of hard coded on your phone.”
Moul says some of the largest Internet retail brands and content publishers in media have been using the technology in beta, though he says he cannot yet reveal their names. He describes a flash-sale merchant among the top 100 e-retailers using the technology to test various design tactics.
“They did a test of their app focused on placement of social-sharing buttons,” Moul says. “They literally just moved the buttons up a little higher on the app screen and got a 50% improvement on click-through rate, which to them is phenomenal because it gets the word out more and more people sign up for the private sale site.”
In the conventional app publishing mode, the flash-sale e-retailer would have had to resubmit its app every time it made a change to the coding for each test and for the finalized version; with Artisan, the retailer was able to conduct the A/B tests and publish the winning design via the SDK and web-connected servers and avoid the app store entirely, Moul adds.
This first release of Artisan technology is called Artisan Optimize and is available now for iOS and soon for Android and HTML5. The cost of Optimize is linked to the number of apps, the number of monthly active users, and the number of tests conducted, and falls into one of three categories: standard edition, $1,000 per month; pro edition, $4,000 per month; or enterprise edition, $10,000 per month.
This fall Artisan Mobile will release Artisan Analyze, which enables app analytics without coding.
“If you are using a traditional analytics program, engineers have to go into the app code and inject analytics code before and after the part of your app you want to analyze, and then send it back through the app store,” Moul says. “Let’s say you are a marketer and you thought of something new to test, you have to go back to I.T. and get them to do more code and so on. With Artisan Analyze, the SDK in the app will collect all of the analytics on gestures, keystrokes and user behavior, so businesspeople can do analytics to their hearts’ content without new code or help from the I.T. department.”
Also due in the fall is Artisan Personalize. Moul says personalization is one of the most important up-and-coming tactics in mobile commerce. Artisan Personalize will use data the SDK gathers, data from a retailer’s customer relationship management system, and data inferred from general user patterns to deliver app screens and mobile offers customized for each user.
“Mobile more than any other technology gives you the ability to create a one-to-one experience,” Moul says.
Artisan Mobile’s technology holds great potential for companies seeking to take advantage of the rise of mobile computing, says Amish Jani, managing director of FirstMark Capital, the investment firm leading the funding rounds for Artisan.