While that may sound like a simple requirement, it's not an easy one to meet if your mobile website or mobile app is on a parallel development path, fed with content that lags hours or days beyond that found on your primary website -- which is why 1-800-FLOWERS.com no longer does it that way, according to Amit Shah, VP of online, mobile and social media.
Instead, 1-800-FLOWERS.com has been working with Moovweb, which offers "site virtualization" technology also used by Macys.com, Sur la Table, John Deere, Accenture and other prominent companies. Moovweb's approach to application development for mobility is to use its customers' main desktop website as the source for a logical model of how the mobile website should function. The Moovweb developer tools and Web service create a default user interface that can be tweaked for a more satisfying mobile experience.
"The existing Web experience acts as a template for then doing the modifications," Shah said. This technique has become a core component of his mobile and social retail strategy.
For example, most routine changes in the 1-800-FLOWERS.com shopping cart flow through transparently from the Web version to the mobile version, he said. However, when the flower delivery service recently signed on as a major backer of Google Wallet, it added that as a mobile-only feature, figuring that was where the expedited checkout service would be most valued. According to a case study Google published last year, the mobile redesign 1-800-FLOWERS.com did with Moovweb's help resulted in a 25% increase in time spent on the site (despite a decrease in the time required to complete a transaction), a 53% reduction in shopping card abandonment and an increase in the average order value for mobile transactions.
[Do you really have to go native? Mozilla: Don't Abandon Web For Native Mobile Apps.]
Offered to date as a beta or boutique service, Moovweb is becoming more widely available this week with a free developer's edition that includes a downloadable software developer's kit and an account on the service suitable for creating prototypes and demos. The developer's kit works for both mobile Web development and native apps for iOS and Android (where the native apps are typically hybrids -- specialized browsers that display mostly Web content). Deployment options start with a small business edition ($200 per month for up to 50,000 page views), but you'll have to contact the company for pricing above that level.
Moovweb's approach is not "screen scraping" in the sense of doing a direct translation from one user interface format to another, said Moovweb CEO Ajay Kapur. "There's a vast difference between that and scraping data off Web pages and reverse engineering the business logic." Moovweb can work with Web services and application programming interfaces, but the shortcoming of that approach is "the API layer tends to represent a very small portion of what's on websites these days because there's a whole stack of interaction beyond the APIs themselves."
Because the Moovweb model of the Web experience is based on the desktop Web user interface, it can also incorporate third-party widgets such as Bazaarvoice reviews that are actually being served from other websites, he said. "That's why our customers pay us so much on an ongoing basis, because of the recurring value that's delivered. This is the first company that can truly give you a single development path, where appropriate."
1-800-FLOWERS.com's iPhone app
Shah said 1-800-FLOWERS.com took a chance on Moovweb before it had the strong customer list it has today. He thought the company had the right development philosophy and the right team of engineers to pull it off. The choice was the result of a worldwide request for proposals the company put out in search of a better way of doing mobile development. One of the main goals was to produce a more complete mobile equivalent to the desktop experience, he said.