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Mobile sites key to customer loyalty, multi-platform sales: panel

From browsing products to checkout, the online shopping experience cannot always seamlessly translate to mobile. Factor in smaller screens, longer load times and different software, and businesses are dealing with an entirely new situation—albeit, as panelists discussed, a vital one to grasp.

“The most important message for retailers that want to build mobile stores: Don’t wait,” said Nick Cook, director of business development at Usablenet, New York.  “If you’re waiting, you’re already behind the curb.”

Not an iPhone world
Making mobile sites compatible for multiple devices is crucial for retailers, panelists said.

“Everybody thought the iPhone was going to be the answer to all these problems, but now [the market] just keeps becoming more and more diverse,” said Ran Farmer, managing director of North America, Netbiscuits, New York.

Mr. Farmer discussed the rise of Android devices, iPhone’s subsequent loss in market share, and BlackBerry’s ability to stick it out in the changing industry, hanging on to a portion of the market despite the emergence of more browser-friendly smartphones.

Both Mr. Farmer and Mr. Cook stressed the importance of branching outside of the iPhone, allowing a greater audience to get in on mobile commerce.

“You want to make sure that you’re giving [customers] access to your site wherever people are,” Mr. Cook said. “If you want them to buy, why limit them?”

What shoppers want
Mobile sites do not usually have the capacity of their online counterparts, which likely feature more pages, images and overall content. So, it is important to carefully consider what is included in the mobile site.

Mr. Farmer broke down what consumers want to do on mobile shopping portals into five points: find things, learn things, get things, do things/interact and transact.

Store locators, product prices and availability, the ability to read and post reviews, and ultimately being able to make a purchase, are important to shoppers.

“I think that integrating some kind of video in your mobile site is a very powerful thing,” Mr. Farmer said.

However, he called interactive experiences like videos, quizzes and polls “activities that become sticky in the mobile site.” What is most important is to create a shopping experience that mirrors the one consumers have in the store or on the Web site.

Coupons were an oft-mentioned gimmick during the panel, encouraged as a way to pull consumers to a mobile store. Similar concepts, such as location-based incentives, also help increase traffic to mobile sites.

Cutting to the chase
The third panelist, Gary Schwartz, president/CEO of Impact Mobile, New York, stressed SMS as the best way to drive impulse conversion. While consumers are indeed using the browser, they spend more time texting.

“They’re not coming directly into the browser to find something,” he said. “Text is going to give you the richest basket.”

During the Q&A segment, Mr. Schwartz explained why QR codes will not lead to results for retailers, saying their shortcoming lies in their inability to build a relationship with customers.

“You’re going back in time to when you don’t have the opportunity to learn anything about the consumer,” he said. “SMS is a very powerful tool because it gives you that two-way engagement and drives browser conversion.”

Final Take
Rheana Murray is Staff Reporter at Mobile Commerce Daily, New York