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Online grocer FreshDirect enters mobile commerce to drive sales

The application truly realizes the potential of mobile shopping – it is not a stripped-down version of the FreshDirect experience, it is the FreshDirect experience. Not only can customers shop the entire store, the application is completely integrated with the FreshDirect site.

Giselle Tsirulnik, senior editor at Mobile Commerce Daily interviewed Chris Bray, director of technology for Schematic, the firm that created the application for FreshDirect. Here is what he said:

What was the strategy behind this mobile application?
In a 2009 study conducted by FreshDirect, 66 percent of its customers reported owning a smartphone, and a follow up study indicated the number was rising. In addition, 50 percent of these smartphone users reported they had iPhones.

So it seemed if we were going to build a native smartphone experience, the iPhone would be the obvious target platform for FreshDirect’s first mobile application.

The iPhone interface, its ease of use and its elegant interaction model was a nice fit with the kind of experience that FreshDirect is known for: smart, convenient and service-oriented.

The mobile experience for the iPhone application focused on these core objectives:
• Increase the number of items people buy and the frequency that they shop by offering the convenience of ordering from anywhere at anytime
• Remove any barriers to purchasing for users who are away from their computer by offering a tailored native application experience
• Reduce the number of abandoned carts by providing continuity of experience from desktop to mobile
• Reduce the number of help-center calls about last-minute changes to orders and delivery times
• Develop a new interaction model to translate Web site functionality to a fully featured, yet simple to use experience that shoppers would be able to view on a 9cm LCD screen

On the back-end, we needed to work with FreshDirect to construct a server-side mobile API that tightly integrated with its advanced ecommerce platform.

This service had to provide the iPhone application with all of the real-time data on thousands of product SKUs, many of which change on a daily basis.

We worked with FreshDirect to build this crucial server-side component, allowing it to be flexible and easily modified as its internal system grows in addition to providing a framework for the grocer to build applications on additional mobile platforms in the future, such as Android.

Do you hope it will serve as an additional sales channel?
The FreshDirect iPhone application was developed to be both a stand-alone sales channel and a complement to the Web site.

Approximately 90 percent of the Web site functionality is available on the application, which makes it feature-rich enough to provide a complete shopping experience for FreshDirect customers on-the-go.

Provided you are a FreshDirect customer, you can literally do all of your grocery shopping from the iPhone. In fact, I exclusively use the iPhone application to do all of my FreshDirect ordering and delivery scheduling.

The application also acts as a companion application to the Web site. You can shop from lists you have created on the site, add to grocery orders that you may have in progress, and then go back to the Web site and continue shopping. You can also modify delivery times that you may have previously set on the site.

Why mobile for FreshDirect?
Shoppers already use FreshDirect as a tool to reduce the time and energy they devote to grocery shopping so it was a natural progression to extend this convenience to a mobile application.

Now with the FreshDirect iPhone application, users can shop quickly and easily anywhere.

Additionally, we have all had the experience of forgetting something on our grocery lists. Plans change all the time and our shopping lists often need to be modified to accommodate these changes.

With the FreshDirect iPhone application, customers now have the ability to modify and update an order or a delivery time whenever they want, making the service even more convenient.

What do you think the current state of mobile commerce is?
If you look at the type of transactions people are conducting with their mobile devices, you can get a pretty good picture of the state of mobile commerce.

The first tier of transactions being conducted are contextual to the device: eBooks, music, ringtones, games and applications. These purchases are made (mostly) for consumption on the device.

The next tier of mobile commerce transactions appear to be related to utility and the on-the-go nature of the mobile experience itself: movie tickets, car rentals, banking, hotel accommodations and etcetera.

So, why do we not see more highly transactional commerce applications like FreshDirect?

There are a number of reasons. First, the number of platforms out there (iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, mobile Web) make developing experiences for all these different form factors, technologies and interaction models somewhat expensive and time consuming.

Second, most products do not lend themselves to being purchased during the typical mobile experience.

While not unheard of, most people are not buying lawn furniture or DVD players through their mobile phone while they are out and about.

So instead we see marketers developing mobile applications for clients that are more promotional and marketing oriented, rather than transactional (although this is certainly changing).

Third, translating a traditional desktop ecommerce experience to a new form factor with unique user behaviors associated with it is exceedingly difficult.

FreshDirect managed to successfully translate the desktop ecommerce experience to a 9cm multitouch model device, but this type of conversion presents some very unique challenges that some companies might not have the appetite for yet.

Where do you think it is going in the next year or so?
Everything is moving so quickly, it is hard to make sweeping predictions about what is on the horizon.

One thing marketers and mobile users alike seem eager for is the ability to break down the social commerce walls, and more seamlessly integrate online and in-store shopping experiences.

Both kinds of shopping have their advantages – online shopping offers a wealth of product information and user review feedback, while in store customers can touch and feel products and shop together with friends.

Mobile commerce experiences have the potential to connect those two ways of shopping, and I think smart brands and innovative agencies will be capitalizing on that opportunity and others.

Here are some screen grabs of the application, to get a better sense of the look and feel.