Commentary

Phoning In Black Friday

I have never actually gone shopping on Black Friday. First, as I think we made plain in my last column, I get easily disoriented in malls to begin with. Add a crowd to the mix and my family would have to send in the search and rescue unit of the mall cops to pull me out. I embarrass my family enough at the mall as it is, usually because I am openly hostile to salespeople. I don't need them picking me up at the main office because the staff found me wandering aimlessly in the food court as if I had gone off my meds.

 

All things considered, it is much better that I try to start my holiday gift shopping on mobile. Luckily, the Web performance unit at Compuware, dubbed Gomez, released its list of the most responsive retail sites on the mobile Web. They clocked load times of between 2.8 seconds for top site Amazon to a hair under 7 seconds for Target. I know that performance is Gomez's specialty and so this is  the value it puts front and center.

I was more interested in how these sites actually moved me through the shopping experience and what they might teach us about effective m-commerce and mobile retail marketing. But just to get it out of the way, this is the rank order of sites Gomez measured and their load times in seconds.

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Amazon - 2.85

QVC - 2.94

Newegg - 3.33

Overstock - 3.35

Best Buy - 3.43

Walmart - 3.84

Victoria's Secret - 4.93

Barnes & Noble - 5.23

Nordstrom - 5.44

Musicians Friend - 5.72

1800Flowers - 5.92

Sears - 6.06

Buy.com - 6.22

Target - 6.95

I have to say that despite the variances Gomez discovered in its much more rigorous methodology, I suffered no lag time among the sites, and certainly not enough to discourage my use of them. Of course, I was using WiFi and sitting on top of my router. Still I found that the look and feel of the landing page went a long way in inviting me to click further. In most cases, these mobile sites look too much like the front end of a warehouse index. I understand the principle of communicating the depth, choice and seriousness of a mobile site to the user in a limited space -- but there are better and worse ways of pulling the mobile searcher in.

Foremost, and I can't emphasize this enough, if a modern retail or content site is not sniffing my browser and serving the appropriate mobile version of itself, it just invites me to leave. I loaded every one of the sites above, and found that there are still some, like Newegg and Buy.com, that failed to detect my DROID's browser and forced me to play with ".m" and ".mobile." variations to find the right one.

But the search engines are complicit in this. I still don't get why the engines aren't floating the mobile variant of a site to the top of search results when they know I am using a mobile browser. Isn't this an unnecessary speed bump on the mobile highway?

But this is Thanksgiving, isn't it? I should be thankful for the things some retailers get right. Amazon is not only the fastest mobile Web retailer, it is also the most adept at integrating mobile with the online experience. I find the depth and accuracy of the Amazon recommendation engine amazing enough on the Web, but when those same preferences and suggestions follow you so faithfully onto the phone, it is a revelation. Amazon knows this very well, so the mobile site leads with the personalization element on the home page.

If any mobile marketer wants to know what it will take to get users over any privacy paranoia on mobile, let him go to the Amazon site. On page one you see the benefit of them knowing you and you trusting them. Actually, I don't even know if I trust Amazon. I just know that they know what I like.

Walmart actually has the most endearing front page: two big honkin' buttons for Big Savings and $4 Prescriptions respectively. I like the look more than the actual functionality because the Big Savings button just drops you onto a long scroll of categories. But a couple of clicks later, they triage the mobile offerings to top sellers, bargains, and new releases in each category. Also they let the user create a shopping list or find the nearest store -- all off  tabs on the front page. There is a simplicity to it all that is visually very appealing, and I think is positive for the brand.

Overstock has the simplest front end of all. A search box with drop-down category filters will get you into vertical results quickly, but you can also shop by browsing categories or just seeing the top sellers in each category. Again, this is a clever parsing that lets the user avoid complexity or elect to drill.

Best Buy takes a similar approach, which is actually an evolution of the effective mobile style it has used for years. It does give you access to the catalog categories on the home page, but highlights these frequently accessed topics for a quick link into the best deals.

I don't know what the usage patterns are telling retailers about mobile, but it seems that many are veering toward using the phone as a portable circular, something people are bringing into the store with them in the same way they carry the inserts from the Sunday papers. Target, for instance, breaks down its weekly ad into the component categories on the phone so the user can find the loss-leader bargains in a couple of clicks. It is also among the only mobile retailers to do some genuine partner merchandising on the front page. There are buttons for one of the featured designers, as well as a Christmas button that opens up a discrete holiday experience.

Target has one of the most complete and well-structured mobile holiday sites I have seen, regardless of the slow speed Gomez found here. There is a calendar of bargains leading up to Christmas, along with prompts to get mobile reminders of each. There is a checklist of items around decorating, gift-giving, etc. And there is a genuinely helpful gift-giver guide with over 20 categories of recipient, categories and pricing.

Black Friday is supposed to tell us about the buying mood of the country. On mobile it tells us how retailers are thinking about the platform, and this clearly is a work in progress. I am most impressed by the retailers that are trying to anticipate the use cases for their mobile Web sites and streamline the experience accordingly. Why try to be all things to all people, when the site can successfully capture your most loyal shoppers who are coming to the site at a specific moment of need?

What is that need? I am not sure we know yet. But retailers clearly have upped their game this year, and are ready to gain new knowledge about how we want them to be there for us on our phones.    

2 comments about "Phoning In Black Friday".
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  1. Jack Kelly from Adva Mobile, November 27, 2009 at 2:46 p.m.

    Steve, did you try to BUY anything? I'm interested in your opinion on the progress here. Because it seems that entering credit card numbers and shipping / billing details on your phone, or having to pre-authorize your Paypal account for mobile, is a barrier.

  2. Hugo Ottolenghi, November 28, 2009 at 4:38 p.m.

    Mobile phones are good for ads, but people use them for real-time information sharing while shopping in stores. Look at this report from South Florida: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/business/fl-black-friday-nov28-side-20091127,0,2588089.story

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