Mobile Platforms: Which Phone? That's The Least Of Your Worries

Which mobile platforms are the ones you should focus on for your retail mobile strategy? That's the wrong question—or at least it's the least interesting way of thinking about mobile platforms. Much more useful is a broader view: The platform is whatever a customer is using on mobile, and that includes Facebook status, Foursquare check-ins and other mobile apps that are outside any one retailer's control—all combined with how well the retailer's mobile site works.

"The mobile experience for our client isn't only our application, our content, our delivery vehicle. It's what everyone else is doing," said Michael Sajor, Chief Technology Officer at Ann Taylor. "When our client walks into a store and has a great experience trying on product, and she selects an outfit and is standing there in the store, picks up her Facebook app and puts a status message about the fantastic experience she just had, that's as much a mobile experience for us as is an application that we field or some video that we might stream."

Editor's Note: This story is based on one of a seven-part series of podcasts recorded at a StorefrontBacktalk panel on mobile strategies for retail. Sajor was jointed by the CIO of Pizza Hut, the Snr. VP for IT at Home Depot and the Operating VP at HSN. This "It's interesting to see how the networks and devices compare and what makes the easier, the more compelling experience," he said. "You learn some very interesting things if you just experiment as a consumer and understand what are the differences between platform A, B and C—how do they react and what makes each one a more compelling experience over the others?"

Pizza Hut CIO Baron Concors agrees that usability is crucial—and that has more to do with designing M-Commerce sites than picking phones. "I always tell our E-Commerce team that our competition is not the other pizza brands, our competition is," he said. "I don't care what you sell, your competition's Amazon. It's not because of what they sell versus what you sell, it's because their usability is the best. The consumer's perception is that on Amazon I can order something in one click. And if it takes more than that to order something from your Web site, then your Web site stinks."

Customers also expect mobile retail sites to be tuned to work well with whatever mobile device they're using. That's affected by some things beyond a retailer's control, especially when a customer is using mobile in-store.

Fortunately, customers are more forgiving about dropouts and dead zones. "They could be on the edge of that cell and are just getting a bad experience," said Sean Bunner, Operating VP at HSN. "But I think in most cases people are going to see that across [their experience]. If their E-mail is not coming in, they're going to realize, I'm in a bad location, so they don't tend to blame it on the content person. But it is a challenge."

With all the factors involved in the total mobile retail platform—different phones and tablets, mobile operating systems, mobile networks, social apps and the entire mobile ecosystem—just thinking about mobile platform issues is daunting.

But it's better to jump in than to get stalled fretting over where the ROI will come from, what the business case will be and whether other channels will be cannibalized by mobile.

"It just doesn't matter," said Pizza Hut CIO Concors. "Mobile devices are on people all day. "They're connected, they're on, you press a button, they're going. This is going to be a lot bigger than E-Commerce was if we look out 10 years, so be ahead of it—because if you're not, then your competition will be."