Most every ecommerce merchant is at least contemplating a mobile strategy, whether a specialized mobile app or a mobile optimized site.
Mobile development is the topic we discussed recently with David Sasson. He is the president of OverstockArt.com, an online retailer of original painting reproductions. He is in the process of executing his company’s strategy.
Practical eCommerce: Your company, OverstockArt.com, sells original painting reproductions. You’re a seasoned merchant, using the Yahoo! platform. What is your mobile strategy?
David Sasson: “Basically, when we look at our mobile strategy, it’s embedded into our overall strategy. Our strategy in a nutshell is to do everything for growth and we found that mobile can fit well for a number of reasons. First, we like to look at the external factors when we look at a strategy, and the external factors are that smartphones are selling a lot more these days than they did a year ago. Customers are getting used to browsing with their smartphones; so you know that you’re going to have more traffic and more experienced traffic.
“But if I compare mobile traffic to overall site traffic, it bounces more, and it has a much lower close [conversion] ratio. This is because [customers] are uncomfortable or something is not happening the way they want. There is one other factor that could be happening here. That they’re seeing some products on their mobile device and then they’re going to their computer to actually make the purchase.”
PEC: Is your site, OverstockArt.com, optimized for mobile?
Sasson: “Not yet. We started the [optimization] project about two months ago. There are complications with the [picture] framing utility because we give customers the option to choose their own frame and that complication caused things to take a lot longer. But it will be optimized within a couple of weeks. If you come in with a mobile device, you will actually see our mobile site — not our normal site — which ties in to a mobile cart. But that cart ties into our normal cart, so from an order processing standpoint, it’s the same.”
PEC: Your reference earlier was that the conversion rate presently is low on mobile browsers. Is that because mobile browsers are presenting looking at a non-mobile-optimized site, which could be driving that low conversion rate?
Sasson: “That’s exactly right. That is part of the reason we said to ourselves if we optimize this platform for them, then we will ultimately increase traffic. One thing that happened was that our product, because it’s so visual, creates a fairly heavy site because there are a lot of images. If you’re browsing on a mobile device, it moves a little slow; customers don’t like slowness. They want things to move fast and so that’s the main reason to optimize.”
PEC: So your preference is a mobile-optimized browser versus a mobile app?
Sasson: “You have to do both. If you don’t have the ability to do both, you want to think which one to do first, knowing that you’re going to do the other.
“From our standpoint, we felt an iPhone [decorating] app should go first, because the mobile-optimized site is going to be a little bit of a compromise. Our site is always going to be better on the [desktop] computer than it is on the mobile device just because of the size of the screen and such things.
“But for decorating, it’s actually an advantage on the iPhone because you can use the app to take images and move them onto a different wall, or using the camera you can actually see our painting on your wall in your home before you make the purchase. You can scroll through different paintings. You can decide what is the art that you love the most on your own wall. It’s easy to do because of the iPhone technology and the camera. Then you can take an image of it, and you can share it on Facebook or through email, Twitter and get input from your friends. We thought that that is not only helpful for mobile, it is something helpful, period.”
PEC: What’s that iPhone app called?
Sasson: “It’s the free OverstockArt Decorating App, in the iPhone app store.”
PEC: With the use of their phone camera, consumers can take a picture of a wall, place one of your paintings in that image, and get an accurate representation of what that’s going to look like in their particular surroundings.
Sasson: “Yes. When you start out, you get a few different walls that we put in there for you to use if you did not want to use your own wall, like if you’re buying for a friend or if you’re buying for a certain environment or you’re going to move. Then you can scroll with the different options of art on that wall. You can look at your wall and scroll the different paintings on your wall. Once you decided what you want, you would press the button, take an image and that image would be the image of your wall, and our painting is already sitting on your wall as if you bought it, to make the shopping experience more fun and more accurate until you find the right painting.
“Once they picked the painting that they want, they can click one button and it will take them to purchase the painting. The actual purchase is going to be on the website, but it’s one click. “
PEC: For your soon-to-be launched mobile-optimized site, what sort of compromises did you have to make there? Your products are an interesting test for small screen mobile devices. They require a fair amount of scrutiny from the consumer. They are not exactly commodities.
Sasson: “This is a two-part question. The screen is definitely an issue that consumers are going to have to deal with. When consumers get to a product page, they’ll see a painting and if they want to really get down and see textures, it’s going to be hard. Basically, consumers are either going to have to say, ‘I feel comfortable enough to purchase this way,’ or mark a number of items on the mobile site and then go to the main site to actually see them. That really is a compromise built into the device. I would also say that the cell phone manufacturers have continuously increased the size of the screen, so if you look at your smartphone that you had two years ago and the smartphone that you have today, typically you have a larger screen today. It is still a small screen, admittedly.
“The next thing that we had to sacrifice — the really main thing — is that today on OverstockArt.com, you can choose which picture frame goes to which painting. You can compare frame and paintings. But the mobile-optimized site is going to be more nuts and bolts. It’s a fairly easy navigation screen. It’s not incredibly involved. The paintings are going to be pre-framed with a number of different options. But they’re pre-framed, with three different frames and that’s about it. “
PEC: Let’s talk about the impact of mobile on your business in the near term. How’s mobile going to affect the sales this year for OverstockArt.com?
Sasson: “We believe it is a long term investment. I think mobile is going to have some impact on sales. I do not expect it to be very large. The mobile devices are getting better; the networks are being better. 4G is not really available in majority of the country. This market will grow, but this year I believe the impact is going to be fairly small still.”
PEC: Let’s say your mobile-optimized site launches in the next month or so. What percentage of total sales will that represent?
Sasson: “I’m guessing we’re going to be 10 to 15 percent [from mobile]. We are already seeing some of it. iPad counts as a mobile device, but to some degree the iPad replaces a laptop, it’s replacing laptop sales to some degree. But it is in our mobile number.”
PEC: We have readers, perhaps, that say, “I don’t have the money to develop dedicated app and the prospect of hiring a developer for a mobile-optimized site worries me.” What do you say to them?
Sasson: “You have to deal with your budget because we’re all in business and cash is the lifeblood of business and you have to manage your cash wisely. If you’re unable to do it, then you don’t do it. But in most cases, it’s just a question of moving funds from one investment to the other. If you’re going to spend on a thousand dollars on redoing a product page, maybe you don’t spend that, and you develop a mobile site. It depends on the platform that you have. A mobile site does not have to be very expensive.
“The simple thing for every merchant is to go to your analytics, look at your traffic and you’ll see how much the mobile traffic is growing as opposed to other types of traffic and you will understand the importance of taking care of a mobile site.”
PEC: You’re in the process of optimizing for mobile. For our readers with a hosted shopping cart, can you give them a range of what they can expect to pay to optimize a site for a mobile device?
Sasson: “I believe that, on our Yahoo! platform, we’re paying about $1,000. So, it’s not incredibly expensive.”
PEC: Anything else on your mind today for our readers?
Sasson: “Always pay attention to your business, look at your analytics, take time to have new initiatives, and new ways to improve your business. You cannot be standing still, especially if you’re a smaller merchant. You always have to think harder and work harder than the larger merchants if you want to grow. It’s all about growth.”