Design & Development

Mobile Commerce: Experts Offer Strategy for Smaller Merchants

Depending on the source, analysts predict U.S. ecommerce merchants will generate in 2010 between $120 billion and $200 billion sales. Mobile commerce is a small fraction of this total. But as mobile usage becomes mainstream, and as a variety of devices expand the mobile web, online retailers should consider how much of their traffic, and sales, will come from mobile devices.

eMarketer predicted in September 2009 that total mobile commerce sales of physical goods will pass $1 billion in North America in 2010. That company has analyzed digital marketing and media since 1996.

A Question for Two eCommerce Practitioners

To help merchants devise a mobile strategy, we asked a hypothetical question to two active participants in the ecommerce space; one is a seasoned retailer and the other a vendor of ecommerce services.

Here is that question:

Assume I am an ecommerce merchant with $500,000 in annual sales. I sell physical products, and I have no mobile presence currently for my business other than my current site, which renders poorly on an iPhone and a Blackberry. What steps would you recommend to help my site become mobile optimized?

Three-step Process

The first respondent was Michael Stearns, CEO of HEROweb and MightyMerchant, companies that offer marketing and development services for ecommerce merchants. Stearns said MightyMerchant is releasing a mobile commerce product next month called MightyMerchant Mobile.

Michael Stearns

Michael Stearns

“Within the next one to two years, mobile commerce and payment systems will be maturing rapidly,” Stearns said. “There are already a significant number of transactions taking place from mobile devices. I believe eBay tracked about $500 million in mobile transactions in 2009.”

“I think that niche ecommerce merchants should make sure they are on a platform that outputs their site for a range of mobile devices and has an interface/payment system tuned for the mobile world,” Stearns said.

Stearns recommended three phases of mobile optimization for small ecommerce businesses.

“First, deploy your site for mobile browsers and make sure that your web server detects and serves the correct version of your site.

“Second, consider deploying simple mobile apps. There are several tools to build an iPhone/Android app from a website. The resulting site won’t necessarily be the best, but it would be fully functional. App shells tailored toward ecommerce sites are evolving quickly.

“Third, as the mobile ecommerce market matures, consider utilizing/developing an optimized ecommerce app for different platforms.”

Depends on the Product Being Sold

We asked the same question of merchant Dale Traxler, owner of the online bead store, Beaded Impressions. Traxler pointed out that it is often the product that dictates the mobile strategy.

Dale Traxler

Dale Traxler

“I think the answer to your question depends on what you are selling,” Traxler said. “If I were selling finished goods that have a known brand identity, a UPC, or a manufacturer’s part number, my answer is different than if I’m selling parts to make jewelry.”

“In our case, we sell tiny beads and parts that people use to make handmade jewelry. We have thousands of parts, and usually people buy 15 to 30 items in a $75 order. I don’t think any type of mobile application I could build would make that a very appealing experience. However, I could build an iPhone app (given the resources or a way to build it very inexpensively) that just featured a single item each day to draw people into my website when they have time.”

“If I were selling branded, finished goods, I might consider mobile optimization to be a good idea, but with the growth and evolution of netbooks and the iPad, I’m not sure that’s the best use of money. So, from my perspective, I’d be looking at apps for iPhone first, Android second, and BlackBerry third, as my strategy, instead of a mobile website.”

Brendan Gibbons
Brendan Gibbons
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