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12/5/2012
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Moovweb 'Site Virtualization' Synchronizes E-Commerce Offers

Moovweb keeps mobile websites and primary website apps in synch for the likes of 1-800-FLOWERS.com.

A Web search or a Facebook share from a friend will often point to a link deep within the desktop website, and if the mobile site is a subset of the main one or an imperfect copy they will often wind up on an error page, or maybe get redirected to the home page, rather than seeing the content they expected. A retailer may be able to use mobile ads to steer users to specific pages optimized for mobile, but the great value of social media is it produces "self-organizing campaigns" where consumers choose the links they want to promote. "Unless we use that demand productively, retailers are just going to leave people even more pissed off" when links don't work, Shah said.

Another way to address that would be with responsive design, meaning that Web pages are designed to expand, contract and flex to match the screen dimensions and capabilities of each device. However, that approach risks missing opportunities to "do things that only make sense for the mobile experience -- that's where responsive design tends to break down," Shah said.

Because the 1-800-FLOWERS.com website represents a decade of e-commerce experience, Shah said he wants to be able to take advantage of as much of the user interface logic as possible. For example, the flow of interactions for the checkout process is inherently complex because users are typically ordering flowers or gifts for someone else, rather than themselves. He wants mobile users to get all the benefits of the work done to streamline that process. But he also wants the freedom to factor out features that don't make sense in a mobile context and add some -- like alternate payment options or geolocation features -- that are mobile-specific.

Kapur said the default user interface created by Moovweb is not always optimal -- for example, requiring too much scrolling to see the content of a page -- but it will be functional. "That's where our customers typically decide they'll spend an hour or two making that experience a really nice one," he said, perhaps by using an "accordion" user interface widget to transform that long page of content into a better iPhone experience. This allows developers to spend more time on user interface and user experience issues "as opposed to those developers having to focus on the plumbing."

"The mindset from the beginning needs to be about developing the right UI/UX experience for the customer," Shah agreed. Although his developers are still working out the best way to make the desktop and mobile experiences mesh, typically the process is that major website features are developed for the Web first. The work of doing any needed adaptation for mobile is done at the stage where new code is pushed to a staging server for testing, before it goes live, he said.

Earlier versions of the 1-800-FLOWERS.com mobile website and apps were created in partnership with services like Usablenet and Digby that worked well for several years but required a separate investment of development effort, Shah said. They also worked off periodic updates, based on product and inventory data feeds from the main website, which meant they were often at least a few hours behind. Now, the mobile experience is a more complete match for the desktop one, and Moovweb's tools have resulted in a "dramatic reduction in development time," he said.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and facebook.com/thebyard

Social media make the customer more powerful than ever. Here's how to listen and react. Also in the new, all-digital The Customer Really Comes First issue of The BrainYard: The right tools can help smooth over the rough edges in your social business architecture. (Free registration required.)

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