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What I Learned at the Mobile Marketing & Commerce Forum

Last week I attended the MMCF – Internet Retailer’s Mobile Marketing & Commerce Forum. I could attempt to organize everything I learned into some kind of story or structure and say that it all ties nicely together, but that would be really hard.

 Instead, I’ll give you a taste of what I experienced, which is an onslaught of learnings, factoids, and experiences shared by every combination of cross-channel, online-only, even mobile-only retailers.

Ready? Here we go:

  • According to Etsy, 1 in 5 of the clicks on Pinterest that lead to commerce leads to Etsy. Etsy’s mobile strategy, as a result, has been to focus on mobile page renderings that prioritize the image last – because the shopper already knows what it looks like. They want the other product details first.
  • Mobile web drives customer acquisition. Mobile apps drive customer retention. So it’s no longer about app vs. web when it comes to mobile, at least not for conference speakers – and this was a pretty universal theme.
  • Which is why it shouldn’t be surprising that retailers’ biggest priorities when it comes to apps revolve around customer personalization. Nearly every speaker talking about apps said that personalization was central to their ability to continue to retain customers.
  • Marketing of apps is old-school hard. Apple in particular actively stacks the deck to make sure that only the best apps get the biggest opportunities within its app store. No apps of apps, for example, and anything that offers a pay-to-play opportunity for app distribution gets locked out or shut down. That means finding an audience for your app requires really old-fashioned marketing tactics, made harder by the fact that there just isn’t an easy way to lead directly to the app. A download and a password have to get involved at some point, and the more steps there are to a download, the harder the conversion rate is going to be to get.
  • Apps need to focus on tasks – on helping a user accomplish a goal. Speakers said this in the context of “more so than web – even desktop web” but I would argue that if you spend time thinking about how every touchpoint can help a customer solve a problem (not just sell more stuff) then you’re going to have some very high quality services to offer to your customers.
  • HotelTonight designed their app process so that a customer can book a hotel in 3 taps, vs. 40-50 taps for competitors. Sam Shank, the company’s CEO, recommends that you should focus on 3 times less functionality on the app vs. web, and 3 times more “wow”.
  • Iterative design for both web and app are critical, because no matter what, you’re not going to have a 100% finished product on release. In fact, your design process should build in the assumption that there will be multiple iterations, so that you already have an eye on version 2, as you’re building out version 1.
  • You should have (assuming you’re large enough) a separate team for mobile app vs. mobile web. Mobile web is more like desktop web – not that it should be designed on the same principles, but it should leverage the same assets whenever possible. Mobile app needs to stand alone, because it has much different objectives, and you may ultimately need to diverge significantly on the functionality offered via mobile app versus what’s available on the web.
  • Corollary to the point above: if you build a mobile app based on your mobile web or even desktop web, it’s going to suck. That’s from Sam Shank of HotelTonight.
  • When it comes to tablets, the majority of speakers were still waiting. They haven’t decided whether tablet is more like mobile or more like desktop yet. The only thing they have decided on is that they need to do more to take advantage of the larger-format touch capabilities. And they recognize that there is a window of opportunity around taking advantage of the currently more valuable shoppers on tablets than on mobile phones. That window is open now, but it won’t stay open forever.
  • says that when it comes to tablet (iPad) design, it’s important to try to design an interaction that minimizes page loads – to deliver as much content and rich information as possible without leaving the page.
  • Favorite quote #1, from Cam Fortin at “We have the content. The content is easy. It’s getting the content organized to that people can drill down to what they want quickly and easily that’s hard.”
  • Integration between mobile and desktop is not a wow factor. It’s a base requirement. Persistent shopping carts and wish lists, browsing history, purchase history – that should all be available across desktop, tablet, and mobile, no matter whether web or app.
  • You should only be thinking about augmented reality (AR) if you have a use case for it that solves a customer’s problem. Which is why the two retailers presenting had very obvious use cases – with a window décor previewer, and with a “see the art on your wall” app. No one mentioned Moosejaw’s X-Ray app, though. Curious? Google it!
  • For, their AR app does not lead directly to commerce, so Stephanie Pertuit from the company offered some advice on what to use to measure success: time spent in the app, path through the app, how much people are sharing the AR images they created in the app. Other metrics that came up at the event, general to mobile: average daily uniques, average monthly uniques, repeat purchase rate by sign up date – in other words, are the people who signed up in January spending more on average than the people who signed up in June?
  • Mobile apps that stand out need to have proprietary information on them – even if what’s proprietary is simply a different way of organizing commodity-type information. They also need to have an extra “wow” factor – something that takes advantage of the device’s capabilities (accelerometer, etc.) to provide something fun and engaging for your customer that is also brand-relevant. For JackThreads, for example, it was a style finder game, where shoppers answered three questions and received a style profile based on their responses, which lead to personalized product recommendations based on the profile. But it could also be as simple as a dramatic splash screen image that rotates frequently.
  • Though, some speakers cautioned that there is a fine line between “wow” and “huh?” – where whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish is not understood by your customers, or falls flat in terms of brand affinity. The important thing is to fail at those things fast and efficiently, so that you can rapidly move on to the next potential wow.
  • Favorite quote #2: “Data leads to information, which leads to knowledge. But knowledge is not enough to have an engaging relationship with your customer. Knowledge plus experience equals wisdom. And when you can leverage customer wisdom regularly, that’s when you’ll earn their love.” Andrew Hairetis, Director of Brand Innovations at Intercontinental Hotels Group. I’ve been saying lately that “personalization without relevancy is creepy.” But this gives me even more to work with: relevancy is earned, because it’s built on wisdom – built on the combination of knowledge and experience. You can’t buy relevancy – the experience you have with your customers won’t be the same as anyone else’s, even a direct competitor. But it is definitely the key to unlocking customer value – and love.
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About Nikki Baird

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Although Ms. Baird writes on issues for big retailers and company chains, franchisees can learn what is leading edge in retailing trends. These issues will be coming down the pike, if they aren't there already.

Managing Partner of Retail Systems Research, Nikki has led retail research and analysis at RSAG. Forrester Research, Viewlocity,and PwC Consulting, now IBM Global Services. Nikki has an M.B.A. from the University of Texas, Austin and holds a bachelor of arts in political science and Russian, with a minor in physics.

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