During the fourth quarter of 2016, eBags’ mobile traffic eclipsed desktop; mobile visits grew by 95 percent year over year and mobile sales grew 75 percent. It was a significant milestone for the Denver-based online retailer, but CEO Mike Edwards isn’t resting on any laurels. He says the journey is still in its initial stages and expects the desktop-to-mobile shift to become permanent later this year.
“There’s been a transformational shift to mobile in the last eight months that we’re working to keep pace with,” he says. “We’re literally inventing our strategy by the day because it’s moving that fast and we’re learning that much — that fast — about the customer. The importance of mobile can’t be overstated.”
The company has concentrated on mobile initiatives for about four years, yet Chief Technology Officer Mike Frazzini says that the retailer’s attention has become laser-focused over the last 18 months as the traffic split between mobile and desktop shifted. Frazzini says most of the forward-looking initiatives revolve around removing friction. “We’ve evolved from a responsive approach to a more adaptive approach,” he says.
Given its origins as a scrappy online retailer that debuted in 1999, it’s not surprising that eBags was a mobile pioneer. The company launched its mobile site in 2009; Frazzini recalls attracting some traffic and building exposure early on, but conversions were low. Still, with traffic increasing year after year, the team knew it was an area that demanded continued investment. It took roughly three years of heavy lifting from IT to evolve from a separate mobile site to a responsive version of the eBags site.
In early 2015, Frazzini and his team began planting the seeds for the next iteration of the mobile strategy, which called for creating a more adaptive site.
“We were customizing key components of the site to be adaptive to the mobile experience,” he says. “The shopping funnel and the product detail page are good examples. We wanted to take advantage of — and optimize for — the differences on a mobile device such as zoom or video play controls on a product detail page.”
In late 2015, the team turned its attention to developing a mobile app. Building an app not only provided extended reach, it also aligned with eBags’ core strategy around travel. The first version of the app was launched in early 2016; a second version debuted a few months later featuring eBags’ Connected Luggage Tag, a patent-pending luggage tag that allows users to register the tag via the mobile app and send and/or receive messages if a bag is lost and found — all while protecting the user’s privacy.
Frazzini doesn’t believe the mobile web customer is very different from the one who clicks on the app; the focus is more about providing the best experience regardless of how a shopper interacts with eBags.
“We want our mobile website to be easy to use, navigate and shop,” he says, “and we’ve extended those features to the mobile app — leveraging the power of the smartphone to add extra functionality.”
“Our mantra is mobile-first, and that’s a very different way of thinking than traditional e-commerce or site management. As we sort through our user experience priorities for 2017, our intention is to improve our speed and get better at frictionless interaction,” Edwards says, noting the role both play in facilitating payment systems and continuously refining product landing pages.
“We’ve learned to strip out unneeded technologies and focus our energy on making sure our mobile experience is as seamless as possible.”
eBags’ IT team is acutely focused on how the customer navigates its mobile website and mobile app — exploring voice, visual recognition and swiping technology, to name just a few. A great deal of time and money is also being invested in data insight and in mining the data to understand what the opportunities are for each device.
“We’re engaged in ongoing testing with the goal of lifting mobile conversion … and we are spending a lot of time with our key partners, including Google and Facebook, to understand best-in-class benchmarks and learn to apply them,” Edwards says.
“When we do our IT project overview, we have a separate track just for mobile. Our best sellers are our best sellers and people will look at them across our channels. From a new customer acquisition standpoint, mobile is tremendous, and we have to think differently about this shopper. The mobile customer is a top-of-the-funnel customer, and how they buy from us is trickier to navigate and understand from a return on investment standpoint. All channels have to perform well, but we believe the journey starts on mobile.”