Mobile ecommerce is beginning to manifest itself in several different ways. With the dramatic increase in fast, 3G cellular subscribers in the United States, a burgeoning number of users utilize mobile devices to access the Internet. Merchants should contemplate the appearance of their sites on these mobile browsers and determine if mobile-optimized sites are necessary.
But some ecommerce businesses are simplifying the shopping process for mobile users by creating mobile apps, in addition to mobile-optimized sites. Currently, most of the ecommerce apps available in the iTunes store (for Apple’s iPhone and iPod touch) are from large corporations like Amazon and eBay, but there are some other useful tools for merchants as well, like the UPS shipping rate calculator. Smaller merchants can also learn from the apps created by companies like Tommy Hilfiger that have created mobile shopping experiences that rival their online stores.
With this app, Amazon has simplified its online interface for mobile users. This trimmed-down version of the Amazon shopping experience is, in many ways, actually preferable to buying items on Amazon.com. The home page simply contains a live search function that allows users to search Amazon.com above a login feature where they can connect to their accounts. No need to set up an additional account for Amazon Mobile.
Once users are signed in, purchasing items is very similar to Amazon.com. Tabs at the top of search results toggle between “New,” “Used,” and “Collectible.” Users then add items to their cart, which is displayed at the bottom of the screen. If you have information saved in an Amazon.com account, checkout is a two-click procedure. I do like that the mobile app lets users see the number of items in their carts without having to click on “cart.” The app developers presumably intended for this to be as smooth a process as possible—much easier than trying to browse Amazon.com on an iPhone or iPod touch.
This is a simple app with some basic, albeit useful, tools. First, there is the Post Office locator, which displays all Post Offices in your area in a map or list view. When I authorized it to pinpoint the location of my iPod Touch, it placed me in the vicinity of Barcelona, Spain (instead of Grand Junction, Colo.) where there are obviously no U.S. Post Offices. Still, after manually inputting my location, local Post Offices were displayed in a convenient map or list view along with addresses, phone numbers and hours of operation.
USPS also offers users the ability to look up zip (postal) codes. It can also track shipments if the users can provide a tracking number. This can be done for multiple shipments at a time. Conspicuously missing is any sort of postal rate information, which would be an extremely useful addition to this app.
Most of the features of USPS mobile are available on this UPS app, such as location search, where users can find UPS stores or drop boxes in their areas, as well as tracking information. The design and layout of the UPS features is nearly identical to the USPS app, only UPS is brown instead of blue.
But some of the crucial features missing in the USPS app are present in UPS app. Merchants can log in using their UPS.com accounts and ship to customers in their UPS address books, or they can manually enter shipping information.
The shipping calculator is an extremely useful feature if merchants want to compare shipping costs. Enter origin and destination zip codes and packaging information, and UPS returns an estimation of time in transit and shipping cost.
Like Amazon, eBay’s iPhone and iPod touch app is a trimmed-down version of the online auction experience with less advertising. On the home page, you can log into your eBay.com account and view the items you’re watching, buying or selling. It does not allow you to put an item up for auction on the app itself and therefore seems to be more buyer than seller oriented.
There also seems to be some payment processing issues with the app. When I visited a product page and clicked “buying options” I received an error message that directed me to the website to buy the product. This was for a product featured on the app’s home page.
While it is helpful for users to watch items or check if they are being outbid on the go, the absence of seller functionality and the limited range of buying options make this app far less complete than just using eBay.com.
Tommy Hilfiger fashion is not my style, but this is one stylish app. It’s completely self-contained because users can register accounts on the app itself without having to link to the website. Paging through the different categories of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing sections feels like a catalog experience. Users can browse manually or use a search function that separates clothing items by category, size and price. From here, adding an item to the cart and checking out is simple.
This app manages to pack more than 850 SKUs into a manageable mobile shopping experience. Much like the clothing itself, the app’s design is minimal, blocky and conservative. This cuts down browsing time and makes buying easy, while users can still feel they are getting the same brand they could get if they walked into a brick-and-mortar store.
This app could be best described as a mobile shopping aggregator. It combines hundreds of ecommerce sites into one shopping comparison engine. Graphically, the search interface is very distinct when you’re shopping by online store, as opposed to by product. Customers can search for product keywords and then see them organized by price and by store.
Perhaps the best feature is users’ ability to customize their sets of ecommerce stores for their mobile mall, displayed on the app’s homepage. This is simply a matter of creating a profile and logging in.
When users browse by store they can use a convenient browsing tool to find items by categories and price range. Strangely, the price ranges go from “$” to “$$$$” instead of actual dollar amounts, and I think this is misleading. Once the item is narrowed down to the product pages, users can rate the item, share it with friends or be connected to the online store to purchase it. This presents a bit of an inconvenience, but unifying the payment mechanisms of all these sites would be far too difficult to manage.