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Kenneth Cole exec: Apps do not make sense for brand retailers

NEW YORK – During his keynote at the Mobile Shopping Summit, a Kenneth Cole executive said that, especially with the rise of HTML5, his company’s focus is on the mobile Web and that an application does not make sense for a brand retailer’s business.

The Kenneth Cole presentation offered a look at what the marketplace is doing in terms of mobile, with a focus on the current design trends in mobile space. The differences in mobile site design tend to correspond to particular categories—mass merchants, look-up sites and brand retailers.

“Looking at the mobile sites of mass merchants, look-up sites and brand retailers, they are all using different design templates and tactics to get their message across,” said Tom Davis, vice president of ecommerce at Kenneth Cole Productions, New York. “This year we put our toe in the water, but we expect [sales driven via] mobile devices to be bigger than some of our bricks-and-mortar stores.

“The technology is about to change with the introduction of HTML5, and as a brand retailer, it’s all about the mobile Web site,” he said. “An app really doesn’t make sense for my business.”

Mobile commerce boom via the mobile Web
Before the brand launched its mobile-optimized Web site, it was seeing about 1 percent of its business coming through mobile devices.

Kenneth Cole tapped Usablenet for the launch of its mobile-optimized site at end of July. Mobile traffic immediately surged to 4 percent of the brand’s total, and that was during the summer, traditionally the slowest time of year for the brand.

Currently, mobile accounts for 10 percent of its total Web traffic and 4 percent of its revenue, although Mr. Davis believes that those figures only represent the tip of the iceberg.

“We’re expecting an incredible spike in mobile traffic and sales during the holidays,” Mr. Davis said. “For X amount of money I can build this mobile commerce business, man it with one or two people, and it will drive more revenue than an entire standalone store.

“It is the easiest business case scenario today, but what I really get excited about is what’s coming tomorrow,” he said.

Mr. Davis shared three main takeaways related to the mobile space:

1. By 2013 more mobile phones will be shipped than desktops and laptops combined, and by 2015 there will be more smartphone users than desktop and laptops users combined, per Mary Meeker.

2. Today’s mobile commerce design is reminiscent of 1990s Web sites, but no doubt that is going to change and change very rapidly.

3. By the end of 2011, customers will expect an excellent, relevant mobile experience that prioritizes content that is important to them while they are on the go.

Mass merchants
Mass merchants such as Zappos, Sears/Kmart and Target have thousands of brands, so to try to navigate through that sort of inventory on a mobile device can be very difficult.

The mobile sites of these types of retailers focus on putting search at top of the page and drilling down by product category down below.

For example, Zappos’ mobile site leads with portal for search, brand lookup and browsing by gender, boiling down what they do on the PC site so it fits on a mobile site. The approach is very simple and straightforward.

To create its mobile site, the company removed marketing messages and featured products or brands that are on its PC site.

Target’s mobile site also leads with search, with minimal call-outs about browsing assortment and a heavy focus on the needs of in-store shoppers, from daily deals and store lookup to deals, coupons and weekly ads.

“They’re not necessarily really driving the product base—they’ve removed promotion callouts, home page hero content and category callouts,” Mr. Davis said. “They’re focused on searching and browsing, simplifying the main navigation experience so that it is quick and efficient.

“They are focusing on simplicity to a Spartan degree to offer what people are looking for on the go,” he said. “If you’re a mass retailer, this is the status quo at the moment.

“I do think this is going to become tedious after a while, as all mass-market retailers seem to be using the same template.”

Look-up sites
Look-up sites from airlines, hotels and movie-ticketing companies target on-the-go consumers looking for quick information.

They do tend to have shopping or commerce ability, but it may not be why consumers visit that site, per Mr. Davis.

A lot of lookup sites lead with a download-our-app call-to-action and a login feature for customization, profiling or quick checkout.

Ecommerce is often secondary or even an afterthought, per Mr. Davis.

Brand retailers
The mobile sites from brand retailers such as American Eagle and Kenneth Cole often lead with their sister brands via tabs, features consistent cross-channel marketing messages and product search, while removing the bottom of the page marketing or promotional banner from the PC site.

“We are a brand, we represent a lifestyle, an attitude, and we’re trying to carry that personality or persona into the mobile space,” Mr. Davis said. “It’s about a cross-channel experience, whether you’re viewing the site on a computer, iPad or mobile phone, the experience is more or less the same.

“You have to realize that you have a very captive audience, a very special audience coming through the mobile channel, often younger shoppers,” he said. “We trimmed down the mobile site navigation to increase speed and efficiency and keep the form and function sleek and quick, and it has paid dividends over and over.

“We want to offer a consistent experience across any channel—everywhere shoppers’ experience should be seamless across in-store, online and mobile.”

Final Take
Kenneth Cole’s Mr. Davis