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Zappos sees Android conversions on the rise with catered UI

During the “Amazon’s Zappos: Never Letting the Other Shoe Drop with Mobile” session two executives from Zappos spoke about how native apps and mobile sites play a role in the company. The online shoe retailer devotes separate teams for iOS, Android and mobile Web to ensure that each platform gets the distinctive attention it deserves.

“Android is different than Apple,” said Aki Iida, head of mobile at Zappos, Las Vegas. “Because we have an iOS and Android group and they are passionate about their own OS they have design principles they follow.

“Originally we focused on parity, but over time the Android team wanted to develop something that was more apt for Android and I said, ‘Go ahead and try it,’” he said. “With the Android team developing a distinct Android experiences, our conversions went up.”

Unique OS
Zappos recognizes the importance of designing platform-specific experiences for its native apps and devotes a separate team for iOS and Android. Each team consists of fans of that specific device and their expertise leads to more appropriate executions.

As a result, the two different smartphone apps feature different nuances that are specific to the device and typical user.

For instance, on Android phones, the back button is built-in, unlike on iOS phones, so the Android team decided to not include a back button within the app since it was superfluous.

Some may counter with the argument that consumers will be confused if the experience is not the same across platforms, but Zappos believes that iOS fans will appreciate the iOS specific features and likewise with Android fans.

Another difference between the iOS and Android apps is that the iOS app showcases a feature that lets users filter out colors they do not want to see in addition to colors that they do want to see. This feature does not exist on Android yet simply because the iOS team was able to carry it out more quickly on the platform.

One Android-specific feature is the ability to create a widget that tracks a shipment on your home screen without having to open up the app, log-in and find the item.

Another feature on the Android app is the ability to create a Zappos screensaver on a smartphone. The screensaver displays the time and weather on top of a product suggestion that matches the current weather.

Consumers can click on the item to be deep-linked into the app and checkout. According to Mr. Iida, Zappos is seeing positive initial results from this new Android feature.

Mobile Web
While Zappos spends a lot of time and effort on native apps, it also recognizes the importance of mobile Web. Many brands view mobile Web as more of an afterthought, but the reality is that new customers will first see a mobile site before taking the time to download an app.

“Traditionally the mobile web site has been a slimmed down version of the full Web site or it just provides critical functionality or in recent years is a responsive design so the same Web site but correctly laid out on a smartphone,” said Dave Stevens, mobile Web development manager at Zappos.

“What we found is that a better approach is you can more look at it as what is your customer doing when they access your mobile Web site,” he said. “When you start developing for that you get some very interesting things that come up.”

An important benefit of mobile Web is that it is platform agnostic. While the discussion usually centers around Android and Apple, there are still consumers with a BlackBerry or Windows Phone and it would be a shame to leave them in the dark.

Another benefit is that brands can update in real-time and on their own schedule as opposed to being at the mercy of Apple or Android and having to push out new updates in the app store. It is much easier to test and roll out new features on mobile Web than in apps.

At the end of the day, what it comes down to is how a consumer finds the brand. Loyal customers may want an app for the added value and features, but that should not replace the need for a solid mobile Web experience.

“If [consumers’] first interaction with you is being ask to download an app saying no and then having to pinch and zoom on a small screen, how does that reflect your brand?” Mr. Stevens said. “There’s a lot of commitment for a person to say I will install this app.

“If they’re out and about, quickly comparison shopping, looking for some information, going the full step of progressing to the app store downloading your app waiting for it to install, it’s a large commitment,” he said. “Certainly the loyalty benefits of a customer having those features is fantastic, but expecting a new customer to take all those steps is certainly a giant leap of faith.”

Final Take
Aki Iida is head of mobile at Zappos, Las Vegas