Secrets of success of a top m-commerce vendor

Among m-commerce technology providers, Branding Brand has the most clients, 48, among the top 1,000 e-retailers, according to exclusive Internet Retailer research. The m-commerce firm makes launching and changing mobile sites and apps easy and affordable, especially compared with some competitors, one retailer client  says.

Bill Siwicki

In 2011, Johanna Murphy, then vice president of e-commerce at apparel and accessories chain Kate Spade, realized she needed a new mobile commerce platform provider. The vendor she was using, a prominent one she prefers to leave unnamed, was quickly becoming too difficult and too expensive to work with. Any change she wanted to make was essentially a custom project, she says, and that was aggravated by the fact that the mobile firm’s developers are overseas.

“Everything took twice as long and cost twice as much as it should have, and I could not keep running the business that way,” Murphy says. “When I asked that mobile company for an estimate to launch Bazaarvoice ratings and reviews on the mobile site, the mobile firm came back with a price tag higher than the one for launching the ratings and reviews on the desktop site.”

Before her time at Kate Spade, Murphy used to work for e-commerce platform provider GSI Commerce. She remembered that a number of GSI clients used m-commerce technology provider Branding Brand. While researching various m-commerce firms, she called those GSI merchants and asked their opinions of Branding Brand and heard high praise for the site and app builder, with web retailing executives reporting speedy service at a reasonable price.

Kate Spade launched its first mobile commerce site for smartphones built by Branding Brand at the end of 2011. All told, Murphy and her team worked with Branding Brand to launch m-commerce sites for Kate Spade, Jack Spade and Kate Spade Saturday, and a flash-sale m-commerce site each for Kate Spade and Jack Spade. Last summer, Kate Spade used innovative technology from Branding Brand and eBay Inc. to launch “shoppable windows,” touch-screen store windows (on vacant stores in Manhattan) filled with products. Passersby could use the touch-screen windows to obtain more product information and their smartphones to place orders.

“Projects took only a matter of days, and costs were very reasonable, proportionate to what you would expect them to be,” says Murphy about Branding Brand. She declines to reveal exact figures. “I looked at a lot of mobile commerce solutions. We needed a turn-key, easy-to-maintain solution at a reasonable cost, and Branding Brand was the only alternative.”

Murphy is now chief marketing officer and digital director at jewelry and fragrance brand Ivanka Trump, which this year is making its first foray into direct-to-consumer retailing, leading with e-commerce. She has been working with Branding Brand, asking the firm for assistance with putting together a strategy for Trump that makes ample use of mobile commerce.

Among mobile commerce technology providers, Branding Brand by far has the greatest number of clients, 48, according to an analysis of vendor data on Top500Guide.com. Its next closest competitor, Unbound Commerce, has 17 merchants in the top 1,000.

Branding Brand, which launched in 2008, boasts 38 retailers in the 2013 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide; the 38 combined do $16.9 billion in annual web sales, Top500Guide.com data show. Branding Brand also has 10 merchants in the 2013 Internet Retailer Second 500; the 10 combined do $92.6 million in annual web sales.

These figures are up significantly year over year. Branding Brand had 28 clients in the 2012 Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide that together racked up $13.9 billion in annual web sales. And the vendor had three clients in the 2012 Internet Retailer Second 500 that secured $10.7 million in annual web sales.

Today, Branding Brand’s clients in the Top 1000 include 30 chain retailers, three retailers that sell through catalogs and call centers, seven consumer brand manufacturers and eight web-only retailers. 16 of these merchants sell apparel and accessories, including Victoria’s Secret, Polo Ralph Lauren, American Eagle Outfitters, Eddie Bauer and MLB. Five of the 48 merchants sell sporting goods, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, Camping World and Eastern Mountain Sports.

Branding Brand also has seven retailer clients, including Sephora and Vitacost.com, in the 2014 Internet Retailer Hot 100, a compilation of the most innovative retailers in e-commerce and m-commerce as selected by the editors of Internet Retailer.

Branding Brand more recently dubbed its technology “The B2E Platform,” which stands for “Brand to Everywhere.” The platform is behind the firm’s smartphone and tablet sites and apps, in-store kiosks, concierge systems, mobile marketing solutions, social shopping systems, and custom application programming interfaces, or APIs. Branding Brand uses a retailer’s existing desktop e-commerce site systems when creating a mobile presence.

The mobile vendor reports entry-level costs for its technology range widely, from $50,000 to $500,000. This is because one retailer might only want an m-commerce site for smartphone shoppers while another retailer might want sites and apps for smartphones and tablets, and other mobile services. Branding Brand reports more than 200 retailer clients in total. 150 offer m-commerce sites for smartphones, while the remaining clients offer some combination of sites and apps, the company says.

The mobile firm has 190 employees. It wasn’t until June 2013 that it began building a sales team, the company says. Previously, Branding Brand’s senior management served in a sales capacity to a degree, but the company says it built its business primarily through word of mouth. Today it is in the midst of beefing up its marketing team, with new hires focused on client marketing, internal communications, and photo and video production.

A number of factors are behind the company’s success, says Chris Mason, CEO and co-founder of Branding Brand.

“Word of mouth; client referrals have driven success,” Mason says. “The breadth of our platform; clients can get their site and app needs addressed by one vendor rather than working with multiple. And we never outsource; we build everything in-house, from design all the way through development, which allows us to have a holistic understanding of product throughout the entire organization, which breeds a culture of excellence and a passion for mobile.”

Mason also says very intelligent mobile professionals are key to Branding Brand’s lead. He says it has been very helpful for recruiting to be in Pittsburgh near Carnegie Mellon University, which offers advanced programs in computer science and mobile commerce.

In December 2013, 39.6% of visits and 18.3% of revenue for 18 select Branding Brand retailer clients were mobile, the company reports.

“Many of our clients have already crossed the 50% mark for mobile traffic, and we expect almost all will get there by the end of this year,” Mason says. “Consumers are spending more time on a multitude of mobile devices engaging with brands to make a purchase. Additionally, mobile devices are often used to research information for an in-store sale—this highlights how traditional bricks-and-mortar retailing is getting increasingly complex. Now, retailers have to provide better experiences across a multitude of touch-points, including the in-store experience, which must be made mobile-ready.”


Branding Brand, Chris Mason, Ivanka Trump, Johanna Murphy, Kate Spade, m-commerce, mobile commerce, mobile platform, mobile vendors, Top 500 Insider, Top500Guide.com