Practical Ecommerce

Mobile-optimized Websites Extend Customer Service

When Apple reached out to Travelocity.com to develop an iPhone-optimized website, Travelocity jumped at the chance. “It was a great opportunity for us,” said Paul Briggs, Travelocity’s Director of Customer Marketing and Loyalty. “We already had a general mobile site, but with Apple’s suggestion, we also developed one just for iPhone users. Both the general site and the iPhone site enhance customer care by offering travel-tracking functions on mobile devices.”

With Apple’s collaboration, Travelocity launched its iPhone-optimized site. iPhone users entering Travelocity.com are redirected to the company’s standard mobile interface, a straightforward, text-only screen, that loads quickly with minimal bandwidth. iPhone users then click from there to take advantage of an interface customized to iPhone’s 3.5” screen. Both the standard and iPhone versions remain graphically branded to Travelocity and the iPhone version also includes the company’s signature character, the gnome, complete with its varied salutations.

The mobile-optimized sites have become an easy way to ensure an overall quality experience for Travelocity’s customers. No longer does a consumer have to use his or her computer to gain access to itineraries. At a glance, a Travelocity customer can use his or her mobile device to check flight status, weather, maps, security-point wait times, traffic reports and airport driving directions. It’s this current, usable information that translates into happy customers.

And it’s the iPhone that is causing the renewed interest in the mobile-optimized sites. “iPhone visits to Travelocity are growing rapidly and represent a proportionally higher percentage of share compared to its market penetration (for mobile devices) – more than 10 times market share,” according to Travelocity’s Briggs.

Ebay.com is offering a mobile version of its own (M.ebay.com), allowing customers to track their bids and sale items. Ebay even offers a search to view its products, where you can shop and place bids, from its mobile-optimized site. Amazon.com has a similar feature with its extensive product line in a very straightforward, easy-to-use format.

As a smaller ecommerce business owner, however, I have to wonder if this is right for my business. If you’re like me, and wonder if you need to develop a mobile site, consider your content carefully. Mobile sites for Travelocity, Amazon, and eBay work, in my view, because those companies understand how their mobile customers want to access their information.

So if you are contemplating a mobile version of your ecommerce site, consider what could benefit your on-the-go customers. This could include:

Company Contact Information And Return Policy

Remember that most mobile users will turn to their phones’ browser to get your contact information if it’s not already in their contact list. This makes it easier for both you and your customer because the customer could then call you directly from the mobile phone. (An iPhone user will automatically be able to call you if your number is there, just by just touching the number.)

Order Tracking

If your site has the capability for customers to track their orders by signing into their account, it may translate well in a mobile environment.

What’s New, Weekly Specials And Coupon Codes

This could allow you to show off some products and give your customers a reason to bookmark your page. I like this idea because it gives your customers a reason to check-in get a quick update.

Whatever direction you choose, make sure you offer a link to the full version of your site, and that when you launch your mobile version, it’s the default landing page for mobile devices. Travelocity, for example, saw its mobile traffic increase five fold when automatically redirecting users to their customized mobile interface, according to Travelocity’s Briggs.

Is Mobile Premature For Most Ecommerce Sites?

Travelocity, eBay and Amazon all have mobile optimized sites. But only eBay and Amazon allow users to purchase products from them, and Amazon, for one, won’t disclose how much actual mobile business its receives. An Amazon spokesman told us, simply, “we find customers purchase products (from their mobile devices) and window shop.”

Paul Briggs, with Travelocity, told us that many consumers viewed travel purchases as too complex for mobile devices. He said simpler purchases, such as books, could appeal more to mobile buyers. “Travel is a major purchase, requiring research.” said Briggs. “That’s just not realistic to mobile users right now. That’s a decision consumers confidently make sitting at their computer.”

A site designed at the typical 800-pixel width might look cute on a cell phone, for example, but most sites, in my view, are too complex to navigate on a mobile device without a functional redesign to optimize for low bandwidth, readability and clear product presentation. It’s just too frustrating and confusing to use. Blackberry users click on the space bar to move down the page, and one of them reported a whopping 36 space-bar clicks to work through Travelocity’s regular home page.

Even with the ease of iPhone’s touchpad navigation and larger screen, a fully functioning website (not optimized for mobile) gives me the feeling of being in a dark closet when I’m trying to shop from it. If I’m going to shop online, I want the product organized clearly, and I don’t want to have to work for it. I’m more comfortable buying off of my laptop with the larger screen.

But the iPhone is changing the landscape of mobile devices, allowing users to navigate a web page with more ease than ever before. And the iPhone user-base is growing rapidly, with Apple reporting that it sold four million devices in the first seven months. iPhone now accounts for roughly 20 percent of the smart phone market, according to Apple.

And to be sure, consumers are making credit card purchases from their mobile devices. Robert Wallace is president of Aircharge, a company that provides wireless credit card payment gateway services. According to Wallace, credit card charges from mobile devices have increased “100-150 percent annually since 2000.”

But most ecommerce sites haven’t made it easy to buy yet, and customers aren’t necessarily thinking about using it to make purchases. As a small ecommerce owner, I suspect I will create a mobile-optimized version of my site as my customers begin to get comfortable and demand it. Until then, I intend to use my laptop for buying and my iPhone, well, for just about everything else.

Michelle Lambert

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Comments ( 4 )

  1. Legacy User February 12, 2008 Reply

    Well, should these folks be using .mobi ?

    — *GX*

  2. Legacy User February 19, 2008 Reply

    Very informative. Keep these great articles coming!

    — *Mike Kearney*

  3. Legacy User February 19, 2008 Reply

    As a business traveler who uses a Blackberry with Google apps and has given up traveling with a laptop, I'd like to add an Mr. Briggs comment that a travel purchase for mobile users is "just not realistic." He is correct, but it's not because people don't want the option to buy travel via mobile. Many business travelers have been stranded in airports and wanted exactly that option. But right now, it's unrealistic is because no company has made the purchase simple. I imagine that from an ecomm perspective it may difficult to solve due to the multiple flights and times, etc. but that's not a reason not to solve it. It just requires a novel approach. Make the solution simple, and people will whip out their credit cards. I bet this will be yet another example where an established company, like Travelocity, fails to address a problem and a young upstart comes to town with a solution and beats them at their own game. I, for one, am waiting for that upstart.

    — *Jim Frederick*

  4. Legacy User February 27, 2008 Reply

    I am a business traveler who carries no less than 3 mobile devices plus my laptop on any single trip. I have to say that I have developed very low expectations when it comes to accessing any site using my phone, iTouch, or Blackberry. It is probably just as well because I consider myself very much an impulse buyer which is a real problem considering the amount of extra time I typically have sitting in airports so it.

    In the end I find myself holding off on my purchases until Saturday mornings when I can do my shopping via laptop from the comfort of my sofa with a hot cup of coffee and my dog at my feet.

    — *Glenn Thompson*