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Site clinic: Tailoring a mobile commerce site to customer needs

September 29, 2009

By Marci Troutman

Marci Troutman is founder/CEO of Siteminis

Marci Troutman is founder/CEO of Siteminis

This year is wrapping for retailers in terms of marketing strategy and seasonal product ordering. Strategic operating and resource plans for 2010 have begun and it is worth noting how retailers are going to engage in mobile commerce.

Let us start by restating some of the basic market intelligence we have. In rough numbers, about 70 million people get onto the Internet via mobile phone each month and at least 20 million do so daily.

Now these numbers exclude text-only options and non-browser mobile phones, which would increase that number of multichannel customers significantly. This is just about those that get onto the Internet, which is a sizeable and diverse market segment for any retailer in which your customer base resides in some way.

It makes sense that any rapidly deployed technology with double-digit adoption growth that can be adapted to reach your customer should make you sit up and take notice as a retailer.

It still amazes me how many retailers of size – say, $500 million or better in annualized sales – have not embraced this new channel to acquire, retain and convert customers.

In fact, by the end of 2009, it is estimated that about 15 percent of retailers have a real and robust mobile strategy and some 35 percent will really have none at all and do not have plans through 2010.

There are several reasons for this sloth. Retailers have not allotted the capital. They are worried about security. They are concerned with privacy. And the lack of sufficient internal skills.

Any and all of these reasons come into play when looking at how a company approaches a mobile strategy.

So let us talk about the 50 percent of retailers that intend to have some strategy surrounding the mobile space by the end of 2010.

The basic three rules of retail, as I learned them many years ago, was location, location, location. Or said another way, be where the customers are.

It would seem to me that there is a target-rich environment of customers located where ever they are – I mean, anyplace, anytime, anywhere. Pretty common sense when looked at through the right lens.

What would be the key drivers to get into mobile in a relatively strong way? Simple: customer loyalty and marketing.

These two reasons can be expanded to take on many forms, from brand-building and hitting promotional markets, to allowing the customer to order from anywhere and deliver to anywhere.

What a retailer does depend on is its strategy and strengths, but all of it has to start with a real plan. 2010 is the time to start the ball rolling.

Those that are first movers will learn the lessons faster and become more competent at delivering mobile content and consequently commerce and out-position their competition.

Let us take a look at three examples of retailers that have a strong presence on the Internet and varying degrees of presence on mobile – Walgreens, Target and Whole foods.

This is more to look at what can be done to enhance that mobile presentation to better interact with their customer to accomplish building stronger loyalty and improve one-on-one marketing, including conversion.

To get a sense of what I am talking about let us compare the current Walgreens WAP site home page to a page with standards Siteminis has developed for the mobile platform.

Keeping in mind that WAP is used for its ease of implementation and cross-platform ability. Our software has that same cross-platform ability, so this is a real world example – no download required.

To start with, one should ask what customer we are talking to and how best to do that.

In the case of Walgreens, it is obvious that the customer is someone who wants to do business with the pharmacy, which is a significant portion of their business. It still, however, does not tap into the majority of their monthly customer shopping base.




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Now let us review target. Not a bad site from a WAP perspective and yes, this site does the basic search, category shop, find a store and weekly ad correctly.

Although, their strategy is that all commerce is done through the online store (which makes sense on the platform as it is), when you follow the path to conversion (“I want to buy it now”) you have to leave the mobile site and go back to the standard wired Web site to do the transaction.




Now on to the Whole Foods site. This is an iPhone application download that presents recipes and a store locator on the site.

This brings up an interesting dilemma for retailers. How do I approach the various mobile phones in the market place and their different browser/operating system issues?

If I use the application download, I run into some problems.

First, I am limiting my market reach to just those phones that the application is designed for and that can mean costing out two to three applications to take care of key operating systems.

Second, I now need to make sure that I keep on top of the changes in operating systems or legacy systems, such as the Whole Foods application for iPhone that has to have the iPhone 3.0 Software Update to work.

Whole Foods has a fairly robust wired Web site that talks about sale items, product information and health tips. I will bet the customers that at least have Internet-capable phones would like to get the same opportunity to receive information that the iPhone customers do. All of this helps in developing customer loyalty and working all the marketing angles.


To close off this article, I want to give full disclosure. I work for Siteminis. The purpose of this article was to spur some thinking about how a retailer approaches this growing market channel of mobile users and not to short-change your customer by presenting a mobile site that does not really deliver to your customer’s expectations.

Marci Troutman is founder/CEO of Siteminis Inc., an Atlanta-based mobile site developer. Reach her at

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