Northern Tool mobile is back, with more features and a richer experience

After a false start, the retailer hires a new provider and achieves ROI.

Bill Siwicki

 Northern Tool + Equipment Co. was among the numerous unfortunates caught up in the mPoria debacle. The retailer signed on with the now-defunct m-commerce technology provider two years ago, paying mPoria a small monthly fee for a bare-bones, software-as-a-service m-commerce site.

But the mobile commerce vendor stopped returning phone calls and e-mails from its two dozen retailer clients, and then ceased billing. And then disappeared.

That didn’t stop Northern Tool, though. While it only received a handful of orders through the highly templated, text-oriented mobile site, the use of the mobile web and the adoption of smartphones were changing the landscape of mobile commerce, for the better. And smartphone owners expect better than what mPoria was providing in terms of look and feel and experience, says Nathan Miller, director of Internet marketing at Northern Tool, No. 71 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.  

“We realized we needed to make a more substantial investment in mobile and re-launched August 1,” Miller says. “We looked at our analytics and between 3.5% and 6.5% of visitors were coming to our e-commerce site on a mobile device. And that number was bigger than we expected.”

The multichannel retailer, which operates an e-commerce site and 65 stores in 11 states, did not have the time or the resources to build an m-commerce site in-house, so it again turned to a vendor. This time, though, Northern Tool engaged Digby, which, unlike mPoria, boasts clients that are among the biggest in Internet retailing—1-800-Flowers.com Inc., Abercrombie & Fitch Co., drugstore.com, The Home Depot Inc., Toys ‘R’ Us Inc.—with years of experience in mobile commerce.

“Now customers see a much more graphical and easy-to-use interface with main options of Shop by Category, Shop by Brand, Find a Store and Search,” Miller says. “All 29,000 of our products are there, all 62,000 customer reviews are on the mobile site.”

Miller says the cost to build the site was “very reasonable,” but declines to provide an exact figure. He adds that not having to devote any internal resources to the construction of the site was a plus.

And he says in three months time the retailer already has achieved return on investment.

“I’ve learned that more of our customers are willing to buy through mobile than I thought. We’re surprised at the number of sales we’re getting. It’s significant enough that everyone in our company is taking notice,” he says. “I have no doubt mobile commerce is the future.”


Digby, m-commerce, mobile commerce, mPoria, Northern Tool