The Year in E-Tail: Lessons Learned and Looking Ahead

If 2011 was a strong one for mobile commerce, it was a mere precursor to what’s expected in 2012.

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EBay’s mobile site.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

Tory Burch implemented an in-store mobile strategy as a pilot in a few of its New York stores last fall, and the brand is working on a full store rollout now that it expects to have completed by the end of 2012, according to chief marketing officer Miki Berardelli. Sales associates are able to log onto the site with personalized log-ins on their iPads so all activity could be linked to that employee and store.

“We see mobile as the true bridge between online and offline. Our customer carries her device with her at all times and enters our stores more informed than ever,” Berardelli said. In addition to merging the shopping experience in the online and offline worlds, brands differentiating between mobile, tablet and Web strategies will be key going forward.

Lombardo notes that smartphones and tablets are used for different shopping reasons, and because of this, retailers serving up their traditional Web sites without modifications for tablet users won’t cut it. He cites eBay smartphone and tablet-specific apps as a particularly good example of this.

Mullen agrees, adding that tablets are where many brands will focus their energies this year. “Mobile is just becoming a bigger and bigger share [of the online retail marketplace], and then when you add in the tablet — specifically the iPad — this is where we’re going to see a lot of growth as we move forward,” Mullen said. “The tablet is the beacon for e-commerce, and what’s happening with the iPad is that brands are seeing conversion rates that are double or triple what they see on their Web sites — and a lot of that is being driven by when consumers are shopping.”

From L2’s research, Mullen is confident that 2012 will see even more $1 billion online shopping days than last year, which she believes is a direct correlation to the investments that retailers have made in bolstering their online strategies and pumping capital into digital initiatives.

On Jan. 12, Sephora took the top spot in L2’s first Prestige 100: Mobile IQ Index that ranked the digital innovation of prestige brands in the fashion and beauty industries — which was mostly due to the retailer’s job at innovating and creating unique mobile experiences (Nordstrom, Macy’s, Net-a-porter and Bloomingdale’s took the remaining four of the top five spots).

She noted that only 16 percent of the brands featured in the index had unique iPad-specific content — Sephora among them — as the majority of companies currently offer iPad content replicated from an iPhone app.

Sephora has a mobile site that is m-commerce compatible, an iPhone app that integrates with an in-store retail experience and a highly engaging iPad app that allows consumers to follow how-to videos that teach them how to apply various products.

“For us, mobile is something we felt was a huge customer service [tool] early on, so when the iPhone hit the market, it really changed the notion of what you can do with your phone and we built an app for that. In early 2011, we added an iPad app which leveraged the benefit of that device,” said Julie Bornstein, senior vice president of Sephora Direct.

She calls mobile the bridge between a rich e-commerce and in-store experience, a tool that can enrich the brick-and-mortar component to the retail equation. “[We’re] creating an ecosystem that works together to ease the consumer’s shopping experience. You need to leverage all of these. Our product assortment is the same [across the various platforms] and the stories are the same, but the way people navigate and the tools they have to use on each of those devices is specific.”

However, Oliver Walsh — founder and chief executive officer of discovery platform Discoveredd and Wednesday London, a digital agency that has worked with Mr Porter, J. Crew, Alexander McQueen, Giorgio Armani and Moncler — believes that this isn’t always the case.

He’s an ardent believer that if a site has a “responsive design,” then the brand’s message should work cross-platform without developing a differentiated experience for a desktop, smartphone or tablet — not to mention the exorbitant cost related to achieving this that can be quite an obstacle for smaller retailers.

Another leading trend Walsh sees emerging this year — via Discoveredd, an online scrapbook that allows users to save products, places and images that they love and find on a daily basis — is social commerce.

“I’m interested in how people discover new products that are relevant to them. It’s about integration of the social graph and social discovery,” Walsh said. “It will be quite tangible — this notion of social discovery and how the world has evolved from search-based discovery to algorithmic-based discovery. This is the most important thing — and a lot of sites haven’t taken advantage of it yet.”

Facebook, to a degree, has taken advantage of this with its “like” button, but the new breed of discovery-based social commerce sites such as Pinterest and Discoveredd aim to cater to this budding category in an innovative way. To Walsh, shopping with friends is the most powerful tool to drive revenue.

The jury is still out on Facebook commerce, or F-commerce, though. Mullen said that brands and retailers still have yet to fully recognize the opportunity around the medium as it pertains to shopping, but this could largely be realized by the end of the year. Lombardo concurred, saying it’s too early to call F-commerce a “flop.” Although he doesn’t think Facebook itself will ever be a huge driver of revenue, it will be a place where fans can engage and brands can offer promotional deals and sales that drive the experience back to the branded site.

He also thinks that being able to leverage the data from the platform onto a brand’s site — mashed up with data pulled from its e-commerce system — has a lot of potential for these companies to merchandise using Facebook data, which is rife with information about consumers, including products their friends might like or when it’s their birthday.

“That type of thing is hugely powerful. That’s the kind of personalization we’ve been talking about for a long time and Facebook is allowing for retailers to smartly think about it,” Lombardo said.


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