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Office Depot exec: Mobile sites should not mirror desktop experience

September 16, 2011


The Office Depot app for iPhone

BOSTON – An Office Depot executive at’s Annual Summit said companies should not replicate a desktop experience when developing their mobile site.

During the “Meeting the Challenges of Performance in Mobile Retailing” session, executives emphasized the need for simplicity in the mobile channel. The executive also said that mobile is a different channel and companies need to take that into consideration when working on their strategy.

“You want to make sure your mobile site is simple,” said Emily Pelosi, senior director of online marketing for Office Depot, Boca Raton, FL.

“You can’t replicate the desktop site – it has to be a completely different environment,” she said.

Keep it simple
According to Ms. Pelosi, simplicity is key.

Office Depot has been focusing on making mobile as simple as possible.

For example, the company lets users look at products and save items to checkout in one channel and then complete the transaction in another.

On the mobile site, it also provides a way for users to reorder printer ink cartridges in three clicks.

Additionally, shoe manufacturer and retailer Aldo, has a similar strategy when it comes to the company’s mobile efforts.

“Mobile is a very different channel,” said Alex Popov, head of IT and ecommerce at Aldo Group, Montreal, Canada. “It is more different than ecommerce was from the store.

“It is all about simplicity” he said. “You need to make sure your mobile site is easy to navigate.”

A faster strategy
Aldo owns approximately 900 stores in addition to make its products available through other retailers and online.

Mr. Popov wanted to test a mobile strategy after watching the quick growth of the channel, but his enthusiasm for mobile has not always been matched throughout the organization.

“When we started out in ecommerce about seven years ago, nobody believed that we would sell shoes online,” Mr. Popov said. “It is amazing how well we’ve done with the online business.

“There is a similar amount of dissent at the company about mobile with some wondering if people will actually want to buy online through a smartphone,” he said.

After initially deciding to come up with a long-term mobile strategy, Aldo executives later decided to start small with a mobile site and offer several features so it could get something into the market quickly.  

“We came to the realization that mobile is evolving quickly and that building a big, long-term strategy might be useful only until mobile changes again,” Mr. Popov said.

“We decided instead to build a short-term strategy and build out iterations,” he said. “Apps are cool but unless you have a captive audience, there is no guarantee that they will keep coming back to an app.

“As part of an overall strategy, we will do an app later on.”

The company wants to test the waters for mobile so it can understand the differentiating features for the channel.

Aldo did usability research before launching its mobile site.

“We realize that we are entering new territory – mobile is very different from ecommerce,” Mr. Popov said. “It is important to understand what users want.

“They need easy access; they are asking questions and need an answer right away,” he said. “Users most often are looking for your store or looking up a product to do comparison shopping. It is a customer who is not sitting down in a house and browsing a site comfortably.”

“Our main objective was to learn from this – we had the intention of making money in this channel at first.”

Lesson time
According to Mr. Popov, services available on the site at launch were checkout, search and a store locator.

With very little promotion to date, between 1 and 2 percent of ecommerce sales come through the mobile site.

The company is currently getting ready to launch a mobile site in Canada and is looking at bringing mobile commerce to Britain and Asia.  

Aldo is also looking for ways to integrate mobile with its retail stores.

“To be able to find a way to integrate mobile into the store channel would be very interesting for us,” Mr. Popov said.

The issue is that store associates, who do not typically encourage customers to go to the ecommerce site, would be unlikely to promote the mobile site.

“We know that shoppers are using them in store and as customers become more dependent on smartphones it is important for us to give them a way to use it,” Mr.Popov said.

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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