2014 Mobile Commerce Best Practices: Insights into the mCommerce Trends Shaping an Industry [Complete Guide]

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2014 Mobile Commerce Best Practices

The four mobile commerce trends you can’t ignore 

This guide contains the collective insights from ten companies that are ahead of the curve when it comes to multi-faceted commerce experiences.Mobile presents an opportunity to create insurmountable advantages by extending your customer relationships into new realms — this guide reveals how the top mobile commerce companies do it today. Read, evolve, or go extinct.

The ten companies are grouped into commerce brands and complementary services. JackThreads, Frank & Oak, Threadflip are commerce brands. HubSpot, URX, deeplink.me, MobileAppTracking by HasOffers, MobileDevHQ, Appiterate, and KISSmetrics are complementary commerce services. Each company was interviewed and asked the same questions. After evaluating these conversations, four major themes continued to appear:

1. User-first design: customer experiences must be viewed holistically

2. Mobile is always-on

3. Mobile measurement and analytics tools are rapidly becoming more complex

4. Deeplinking has outstanding promise in connecting the mobile ecosystem

These trends will shape commerce for years to come. Let’s dive in.

Mobile is one aspect of user-first design

The most successful mobile commerce companies focus on user-first experiences. You will rarely hear these companies talk about “mobile-first” or silo any of their products — they understand that each email, web property, app, push notification, newspaper ad, or any brand touchpoint contributes to the complete experience for each individual user. Mobile has only recently exposed this holistic approach as it’s the first time customers can be consistently identified across disparate browsing and buying experiences.

User-first Design

If there is one company who understands user-first design, it’s HubSpot. They’ve built a business on inbound marketing expertise. Meghan Anderson, Head of Product Launches at HubSpot, describes the rationale behind building user-first products as:

…there’s no such thing as a smartphone user, tablet user, or web user. Rather, it’s the same user who hops between the different experiences. Customers are the collection of their entire experience using HubSpot across multiple channels — social media, web, search, mobile. You must think holistically about all of these channels, including mobile. We’ve always built HubSpot to reflect the way customers behave. (Anderson)

HubSpot is the thought leader in optimizing users’ brand interactions, so when a major design decision like this is made, you need to listen. KISSmetrics is another company that commands respect when it comes to user-first design — its entire analytics stack is built around the individual. “KISSmetrics takes all the data you’re collecting and ties it to real people. Every last piece gets connected to a real person. All of it. It doesn’t matter if people bounce around between different browsers and devices. Or even if it takes them six months to come back. You’ll see what real people do,” preaches Sean Work, Director of Content Marketing at KISSmetrics. As new channels develop across web, mobile, social, video, and beyond, only the individual will remain unchanged. The human who is interacting with your brand across all these experiences — design for him or her, not for mobile. These user-first insights shared by HubSpot and KISSmetrics have started to permeate into the commerce world.

JackThreads, the company at the top of our mCommerce chart, understands the empathy required to meet customers where they live. CEO Ben Lerer explains JackThreads’ smooth transition into mobile: “it’s where our guys live. We aren’t forcing a behavior — we’re just investing into creating great products where we know our guys need them.” Even beyond responding to your core audience’s lifestyle changes is predicting where they’ll be in the future, a feat menswear brand Frank & Oak has done repeatedly. Its focus is exploring mobile to personalize users’ complete Frank & Oak experience. Again, using mobile to enhance user-first design. Nima Gardideh, the mobile product lead at Frank & Oak describes:

…mobile as a lifestyle and branding tool to personalize the experience for the user. If you can build brand perception and strength through mobile, that customer will become a greater advocate for you over time….Mobile is such a personal device, and that greater customer understanding will help brands make more meaningful connections with their customers. (Gardideh)

Customer relationship building spans all mediums, even if buying does not. Not all channels have to close sales. Below is a graphic that Nima uses to explain Frank & Oak’s holistic approach to increasing conversions as a whole, not just for individual channels.

Best practices 1

When you’re designing your mobile experience, keep in mind that it’s just one piece of the collective user experience. There will always be new channels, but there will only be one user moving between them.

Now with some perspective on how mobile experiences fit into user-first design, let’s explore how to make the most out of mobile.

Teach your users to want an always-on relationship

Smartphones enable brands to reach their customers at all times of day, as someone’s smartphone is rarely more than an arm’s distance away. When eCommerce buying was desktop-only, a brand could never issue real-time alerts or updates that inspire immediate action. A brand could never alert a customer that a favorited item just went on sale, or that there’s a flash deal active for the next 2 hours. Yes, the brand could send an email and the product could be bought days later. And that still happens. But the brand misses the opportunity to deepen the relationship with its customer by creating an always-on dynamic. The best brands today understand and respect that mobile is an always-on communication tool — Threadflip is a fantastic example. Manik Singh describes how they use push notifications at Threadflip to thoughtfully engage with their users.

Say you put something on your wish list and get a notification right when it goes on sale — this is a perfect use case for buying on mobile; you can buy immediately in that moment. We’ve done a great job with push notifications and educating our customers when to expect notifications, rather than annoying them with push notifications at random times.It’s simple, when you heart something on Threadflip, you know you’ll get a push notification if the item is on sale. (Singh)

A critical aspect of Threadflip’s strategy is the education process, the expected cause-and-effect relationship Threadflip creates with customers. Teach your users to want an always-on relationship by building features that capitalize on the accessibility of mobile. Flash sale sites understand this model best, and unsurprisingly represent three of the five top mCommerce companies (Groupon, Gilt, Hautelook).

Always-on Customer Relationships

Urgency has been a marketer’s tool starting in the TV infomercial craze, and is wildly effective on mobile. Gosia Leszczynska, an advertising expert describes it best, “With flash sale sites — users need to act urgently to get the best deals and our computers are not always on hand, whereas our mobile devices always are.” Most important of all, flash sale customers come to expect notifications when new sales begin. This is precisely why the flash sale relationship exists — to be alerted when a product of limited quantity goes on sale. Just like with Threadflip, the users are taught to want an always-on relationship.

The obvious advantage of mobile being an always-on device is that it creates a larger

window of buying opportunity. But this has to be done respectfully to match your customers’ interests. Foster a relationship where real-time alerts improve the user’s complete experience with your brand.

Powerful analytics are coming to mobile

If a purchase happens online, but it wasn’t measured — did it happen at all? Of course not. Understanding customers’ browsing behavior and their progression from browse to buy is the most important insight for commerce companies. 90%+ of browsers will never buy, but for that coveted 10%, brands have to understand the browsing experience that led to purchase so the experience can be replicated, optimized, and applied to future browsers. Now that mobile commerce has become a sizeable percentage of revenue for major commerce companies, complementary services are rising to support and enhance growth. The majority of these businesses are founded upon measurement. Ben Braverman, Head of Growth at URX prides their business on measurement, “Everything we offer to our advertisers is measurable and actionable to deliver mobile’s first net-positive returns on engagement campaigns.” Measurable return on investment is a powerful sell to the likes of LivingSocial, SeatGeak, HotelTonight (all URX clients) beyond the obvious appeal of deeplinking, which we’ll explore later in the guide. Mobile analytics tools are maturing across four main categories: user acquisition attribution, app store optimization, in-app a/b testing, and deeplinked re-engagement.

Mobile Product Lifecycle

User Acquisition Attribution

User acquisition attribution is the first measurement tool you need in your app, otherwise you will have no insight into the origins of your user base and revenue. Let’s say you’re running paid marketing campaigns across five networks — how will you know which source is the best? Which is generating the best return on investment? You need a tool that can track the origin and result of each user. MobileAppTracking by HasOffers is the best option. Not only does MAT consistently attribute installs, but it provides deep insight into the average lifetime value of your users for each acquisition source. You can know that users acquired through Facebook cost $5/user and are worth $8/user. Or users from TapJoy cost $0.50 and are worth $0.10/user. The front-end cost to acquire a user is meaningless until you understand the value the user brings after the install.

MAT isn’t just for paid marketing — use it to understand which email campaigns are best at driving app installs. If you’re predominantly a web-based commerce brand trying to explore mobile, you need to understand how to drive users to your mobile properties. You need to use a tool to show you that email campaigns promoting mobile-exclusive sales drive installs, while emails just announcing the launch of an iPad app are inefficient. Install attribution is complex, but Co-Founder Lucas Brown and team at MAT have built an elegant product.

It wasn’t until the last two years that advertisers started deploying campaigns with several advertising partners. With this demand-side push to find great users to acquire along with the increasing fragmentation and complexities of mobile advertising, multi-touch attribution is going to be paramount for our industry’s continued success. We will continue to drive transparency between advertiser and their advertising partners by extending multi-touch attribution to post-install events for re-engagement campaigns. (Brown)

This is absolutely square one when it comes to mobile analytics — use MobileAppTracking to understand how users find your mobile properties and which sources are the most profitable.

App Store Optimization

The largest source of inbound traffic across the web is from search engines. They are a vital channel for commerce revenue.

channel dist.

The mobile app equivalents to search engines are the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. According to Ankit Jain, Head of Search and Discovery for Google Play, more than half of Android installs originate from Play Store searches. For iOS, MobileDevHQ estimates that 60% of installs come from App Store searches. Just like search engines, app store search engines are essential sources of traffic for your apps. And just as companies optimize their search engine results with SEO, you need to optimize your app store search results with App Store Optimization (ASO). Ian Sefferman, CEO of MobileDevHQ, is of course an expert in the ASO field and describes the rise of ASO as mirroring Google’s success:

If you look at Google’s profitability, it’s because Google’s text ads are so relevant — the searcher says this is something I want right now, amazing intent. If I search for Nike running shoes, I likely want to buy Nike running shoes. Now the same dynamic is playing out in the App Store — if someone searches for a traffic app, they’re showing intent that they want a traffic app right now. So as these brands become more mobile-focused, capitalizing on this intent becomes more important, and app store optimization (ASO) provided by companies like MobileDevHQ becomes a key aspect for any brand’s mobile strategy. (Sefferman)

MobileDevHQ enables you to track and optimize the major factors that go into your app store search rank — app title, keywords, total number of downloads, average review, and total number of reviews.

Starting at the top, your title must include the main keyword users search for when interested in your app. If you have a traffic application called “Red Light Green Light”, you must include the word “traffic” in the title, “Red Light Green Light: Best Traffic App.” MobileDevHQ has shown a 10% increase in search ranking with this small, easy change.

Wk 8 keywords

Keywords behave similarly to title; be sure to include all relevant keywords users might search for to find your app. Title and keywords are easy to change and MobileDevHQ measures the resulting changes in search ranking.

The three other factors for ASO: number of installs, review quantity, and review quality, are a bit harder to iterate upon. With number of installs, paid advertising is always an option. Otherwise focus on building the best experience and enabling word of mouth. For reviews, Robi Ganguly, the CEO of Apptentive, makes a great suggestion, “you need a way to connect with your customers inside your app, giving them a place to vent and talk directly to the developer. On the flip side, you want to guide happy customers to leave positive reviews for you.” Improving these factors and measuring the changes with a tool like MobileDevHQ will help you capitalize on the largest source of potential traffic for your apps. Generating traffic is the first step, next is iterating on your app’s experience to delight and retain your user base.

In-app A/B Testing

A large install base is a good start, but a returning user base is the goal. You must improve your mobile properties in order to increase the lifetime value of your customers. For web properties A/B testing is a tool of choice for optimizing customers’ experiences and lifetime value. But due to the week-long review process of the App Store and the high technical hurdle of mobile development, A/B testing on mobile was prohibitively difficult. Until recently.

Appiterate is our favorite A/B testing tool as it has a WYSIWYG interface built for product managers and marketers. Just like the previous analytics tools, Appiterate emphasizes measurable impacts on key metrics. “The timing of our launch has also been just about when the need for A/B testing in mobile apps was being felt by product managers. Appiterate is an outlet for them to systematically improve key metrics relevant to them and monetize their apps better,” says Tanuj Mendiratta, Appiterate CEO. As with web A/B testing, mobile A/B testing has proven measurable returns. Here’s a small test Kayak ran on their mobile app’s checkout page:

kayak page

Kayak brought in $15M in mobile revenue in 2012, so at this scale small changes to checkout pages can have effects worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. A 1% increase in purchase rates would have a $150,000 effect. While the revenue scale might not be the same for your company, the power of A/B testing is evident. Appiterate outlines five steps to successfully run mobile a/b tests: define success, identify improvement areas, formulate a hypothesis, prioritize, and test!

The final growth area in mobile analytics and measurement is deeplinking, which requires a section all to itself. It’s the final stage in the mobile customer lifecycle. The foundation is attribution, the first step is sourcing users through paid and/or organic channels (ASO). Next is A/B testing to improve your app and increase customer value. And finally, deeplinked re-engagement to bring users back into your beautiful app.

Mobile re-engagement shows life with deeplinking

Deeplinking is the process of creating a URL scheme that links to specific screens in-app. For example, Expedia can send users who already have the app installed right to the “New York flights” search results screen, rather than sending them to the generic welcome screen and having users navigate to the search page. Deeplinking enables native re-engagement on mobile — target users who already have your app installed and send them to specific pages in-app. Deeplink.me, along with URX, have pushed deeplinking and mobile re-engagement mainstream. Noah Klausman, VP of Business Development at Deeplink.me outlines their approach.

The web URL is the backbone of everything that happens on the Internet. In the native app web, a corresponding standard doesn’t exist. Deeplinking taps into the app’s architecture and allows a developer/marketer to drop existing users into specific screen in their app. [Deeplink.me has] built the pipes for native linking, and has added features that go along with it — making app content accessible with a single link, advertising, retargeting, facilitating crawling for search engines, and many other use cases. We want to create a simple path for users to move horizontally across the apps that they already have installed. That goes beyond serving banner ads and into innovating how the native linking experience looks to end mobile user. (Klausman)

The mass appeal with deeplinking is that it’s a profitable way to increase the value of users you have already acquired. Now that you’ve spent $4 on an install, how do you recoup that cost? The first wave of mobile app advertising hyper-focused on installs is over. Now that these applications have sizeable user bases, the focus will be on increasing the value of each user over time. In a recently published case study, URX increased Threadflip’s revenue per user by 40%. Below is an example user flow where the user had viewed a pair of shoes in-app, and later was retargeted with a mobile ad which linked the user back to the same pair of shoes:


As app developers focus on re-engaging existing users, the ad networks will follow suit. “A lot of the large traffic sources have been successful driving mobile app installs for their advertisers; they will become more focused on re-engagement campaigns so they continue to drive value for their advertisers,” explains Lucas Brown of MAT. This is outstanding for the mobile ecosystem, as the increase in customers’ lifetime value will allow advertisers to spend more on mobile advertising.

The benefit of deeplinking is not limited to mobile ads, these links can be used with all customer touchpoints. For example, JackThreads now uses Deeplink.me links in their email marketing campaigns, which has led to a 7.4% increase in iPhone order volume. Deeplinking improves the overall experience on mobile, and as a result mCommerce revenues will continue to rise.

Create insurmountable advantages with your mobile commerce experience

Mobile is a commerce turning point where some brands will excel, and some will be left behind. Be careful to assume that the best mobile experiences will win the battle. Quite the opposite is true. The user-first experiences will win.

The best companies understand the individual user moves between your properties until he or she is ready to commit to a relationship. We’ve explored ways to start that relationship off right with ASO, as well as methods to improve that relationship over time with always-on features, in-app A/B testing, and deeplinked re-engagement. When done properly, these factors will allow you to create loyal relationships with your customers that will be insurmountable.

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  • Thanks Kevin! We agree that business owners need to step up their mobile
    game to compete these days. Engaging shoppers (especially loyal, repeat
    customers) is one of the most important ways to generate sales and stay
    connected. Mobile devices are now the best way to engage. Thanks again!

    • brittanyfleit

      We’re glad you enjoyed the article, Nikhil. Thanks for reading!