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Amazon gains mcommerce advantage as early supporter of universal links

Amazon is leaping ahead in mobile commerce as one of the first retailers to support Apple’s universal links, a move that could drive in-application conversions and potentially siphon off sales from those not supporting the new capability.

With universal links, consumers searching on an iPhone and clicking on a retailer’s link will be taken directly to the relevant page in that retailer’s app if it is on the user’s phone. This could help drive mobile conversions, as the app user experience is typically stronger than a retailer’s mobile site.

“The biggest opportunity for Amazon in supporting universal links is better user experience and increased conversion,” said Scott Allan, chief marketing officer at Pure Oxygen Labs. “It’s an incredibly important usability change for Amazon and it couldn’t be better timed just before the holidays.

“Amazon app users, for example, will no longer be sent to the Amazon mobile Web site when clicking on product links from mobile search results,” he said. “The app will open automatically to the product page deep within the Amazon app.

“It’s all about capitalizing on mobile moments throughout the consumer journey and minimizing the number of clicks to the product page and ultimately to checkout. This change will also give Amazon a wealth of additional information about user behavior when it comes to mobile app vs. mobile Web which they can dissect and learn from.”

Must-have feature
Universal links are among the most highly anticipated new features made available with the iOS 9 software update last month.

However, a cursory review of the most popular retail apps on the Apple App Store suggests that not many retailers are currently supporting the feature.

Per Mr. Allan, only a handful of the top 100 have implemented universal links, including Netflix, HSN and Etsy.

Retailers not supporting the feature could find themselves at a disadvantage to Amazon.

“Absolutely, retailers should make support for universal links a top priority,” Mr. Allan said. “In part, because not having support for universal links will make it exponentially more difficult to compete with Amazon from an app perspective.

“Multi-channel marketing efforts that drive a retailer’s loyal app users to mobile Web sites and subsequent login barriers could unintentionally send more traffic to the Amazon app where the user enjoys a more seamless shopping experience,” he said.

Omnichannel marketing
Beyond simply competing with Amazon, universal links may be necessary for retailers to take full advantage of omnichannel marketing.

“Universal links support sets the foundation for the future, including omni-channel campaign optimization, inter-app connectivity and new advertising opportunities,” Mr. Allan said. “So it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ retailers will adopt universal links.”

Amazon’s quick adoption of universal links is in keeping with a history of moving quickly to innovate in mobile, with the ecommerce giant one of the first to embrace visual search and voice search.

Internal collaboration
One reason why retailers may be dragging their feet with universal links is that support requires both a retailer’s Web site and app need to be updated.  This can be a challenge because as the content does not always match since many retail apps were developed in silos

“The setup is straightforward, involving the addition of a couple of files on your server,” said Kevin Snead, lead iOS software engineer at WillowTree. “The biggest challenge, though, is the internal collaboration that needs to happen between the Web and native teams to define a URL structure and then the ability to parse and handle those URLs in the app.”

Also, marketing departments may not recognize the potential with universal links to provide control across channels over when to open a mobile app versus a mobile Web site.

Additionally, some apps may not be ready for the additional traffic that could result from supporting Universal Links.

Despite these challenges, savvy retailers are likely to make universal links support a priority over the next couple of months.

“Retailers should certainly look to support this feature, as it will increase the overall ROI of their mobile app and enable users to have the experience they desire,” Mr. Snead said.

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