While mobile commerce has boomed in recent years—322 of the merchants listed in the new version of the Top 500 operated a mobile commerce site or app compared with 135 in 2011 and 76 in 2010—most of the 35 mobile commerce vendors can claim only one or two Top 500 retailers as clients. Only three vendors have at least 10 Top 500 clients: Branding Brand, which has 38 Top 500 retailers; Usablenet, with 12; and Unbound Commerce, with 11.
Branding Brand had just one e-retailer client in 2010 based on the initial edition of Internet Retailer’s Mobile Commerce Data Book, published in 2011. But by 2012 it had 30, according to the 2013 edition of Internet Retailer’s Mobile 400. In the latest edition of the Top 500 Guide, whose roster differs from the companies in the Mobile 400, Branding Brand has 38 clients. Branding Brand ranks first among mobile commerce vendors in Internet Retailer’s Leading Vendors to the Top 1,000 E-Retailers. Usablenet ranks No. 3 and Unbound Commerce ranks No.7.
Those mobile technology vendors are growing as retailers and companies of all types seek mobile expertise. However, mobile commerce has become important enough that a growing number of retailers want to have at least some mobile smarts within their own organizations, says Peter Sheldon, principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc. “Increasingly, the retailers are taking responsibility for the development work and some of the day-to-day merchandising activity using tools and dashboards provided by the vendors,” he says.
That trend benefits from a new approach to web site design called responsive web design. Sites built using responsive techniques adapt to the size of the visitor’s screen, and let retailers change the elements a consumer would see, depending on the device they’re using. A retail chain might want the web site that computer users see to feature beautiful product shots on the home page. On the smartphone home page, however, the store locator might stand as the central element. Responsive design provides that kind of flexibility.
Responsive design also has another important advantage, Sheldon says: a retailer needs to create only a single site, with one set of images, product descriptions, prices and all the other content that goes onto a site. With software, the retailer can decide which elements appear on a smartphone versus a tablet or desktop, how big they are and where they appear on the screen. That approach eliminates the need to design separate sites for mobile devices, Sheldon says, and it’s gaining traction among retailers. “Today, only about 20 of the Internet Retailer Top 500 have live responsive sites, but I know that many retailers are either developing them for launch later this year or considering them for 2014,” he says. “The more retailers that re-build their web front-end using responsive design, the less demand there will be in the market for these vendor solutions.”
Still, not all retailers have the internal resources to develop for mobile today, Sheldon says. Vendors with responsive offerings like Branding Brand or Skava, No. 2 among mobile commerce platform providers in the Leading Vendors guide, will continue to cater to them in the future, he says.