Would someone please build a decent store? Page 2

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The menus, the categories, the product descriptions, the terms pages, the buy links all need to be beautiful. They need to be drop-dead gorgeous, fully optimized to the phone, colorful, clear, pristine. They need to be consistent and well-engineered, and they need to actually load up on a phone without crashing. Apparently I'm asking too much because what I get is least-common-denominator, white background, small print, asterisks, goofy looking buttons, input boxes that don't fit, broken links, teeny tiny icons, circular links, and giant warning messages that remind users that this whole thing is really not a good idea.

It's as if everyone runs out of R&D budget at exactly the same place.

Billing. I want to know, in advance, if my prospect has a billing relationship with the storefront before I send my prospect into that store. I can do that with carrier storefronts, because if I send a Sprint Nextel customer to the Sprint vending machine, I know they have a billing relationship. But when it comes to other stores, I have no idea what the experience will be. Imagine a marketing campaign where I've hooked a BlackBerry user on my product. All they need to do is buy it. So where am I going to send that buyer to fulfill their purchase? Where can I send them that is the least likely to end badly? I did all the work, I found the buyer, all I want to do is take their money and deliver the files.

If the storefronts don't solve that problem, why wouldn't all developers simply make their own storefronts and be done with it? One could argue successfully that if a developer has secured a prospect through their own discovery mechanism, they shouldn't refer that customer to any other storefront than their own. You may as well take your own chances. If the store is going to prompt for a credit card, would they have any more luck doing it than the developer would?

Demographics. We know almost nothing about our customers. Simple things, like whether they are male or female, or their age, household income or geography. What other products do they buy and how much money do they spend annually on mobile content purchases? What kind of phone do they have? How often do they switch phones? Are they on a family plan?

I understand that there are privacy issues around identifying each individual customer's data, but I can't believe that this data can't be provided in some kind of aggregate form. But we get nothing, so we have no idea how to adapt our products or our marketing messages to attract new buyers. Are they price sensitive? Do they respond to special offers and incentives? Are they premium or budget-minded?

We don't even know what the makeup is of the buyers within an entire storefront. If we were selling to Wal-Mart they'd tell us absolutely everything. We'd be swimming in data and it would be our responsibility to know how to use it. But in mobile, where everything about the transaction is digital, ironically we know absolutely nothing at all.

Administration. The administration of these storefronts is incredibly painful. It's a combination of half-working websites, poorly implemented upload procedures, and lots of dead-ends and minefields. In other words, whatever you do, don't touch THAT button, because if you do, well, it will be bad, it will be really really bad. In fact, the last guy who pushed that button, well, you don't even wanna know.

It's so bad, that there are actually companies who make their living from pressing the buttons for you, because the administration of files, screenshots, metadata, previews and everything else is such a nightmare. And since everyone is left to decipher this on their own the result is a storefront that is frankly a vast, digital, disparate mobile content flea market. You think any two company's preview files actually look alike? Are the product descriptions perfectly honed to produce maximum impact and provide the end-user endless assurances that this is all money well-spent? No, it's all self-serve. Each developer left on their own to produce a completely random set of product adventures. The entire mobile industry would double their sales if someone would just pick up the phone and call Hammacher-Schlemmer and beg them to help us.

Let me reiterate this point for emphasis. It is the operator of the storefront, not the developer, who should decide exactly what the customer sees from discovery through to purchase. The screenshots, the descriptions, the feature sets, pricing--everything, should be completely managed by the storefront staff. And if anything is required from the developer, it should be extremely well-specified and carefully reviewed before being accepted.

Marketing support. We need the implementation of every trick in the book for marketing. I mentioned just one of them above, which is unlimited affiliate ID codes that are tracked all the way back to the purchase reports. How about dynamic A-B testing on the marketing pages that lead up to a sale? Show half of the users version 1, the other half version 2, and in 3 hours you'll know which copy is best and you can optimize sales. Bring the request for A-B testing to any storefront operator and you'll get a very blank stare.

We also need to be able to do marketing within the store, whether that means buying a digital "endcap" or some simple banners across the top. Problem is, we never know where the sales came from, so we have no idea if the banner ads sold the product or the categorization sold the product. Unless, of course, you're willing to do some voodoo, which every storefront has, and which will cost you several conference calls and the double-entry of all your data into the system.

We need a co-op marketing program. We'll promote our product and remind users that they can buy it in your store. So all we need is a clean, simple, deeplink into your store (from our banner) that will issue a quick, seamless, painless transaction. Can someone please give us a deeplink that doesn't suck? That would be the one that includes an affiliate ID, a beautiful marketing page, a one-click purchase and immediate reporting so I can adjust my marketing campaign parameters this evening. You see, if I fish in Pond A where my cost-per-add is $3, and Pond B yields a CPA of $2, it's really important to know that Pond A users are buying subscriptions while Pond B users are opting for the free trial. That tells me to fish in Pond A, even though it's more expensive. The deal is, I need to make that decision in a couple of hours before my client runs out of marketing money, and I can't do that if I get reporting 3 days later, without affiliate ID tracking.

One great store. Even though the mobile content space is saturated with storefronts from all directions (carriers, manufacturers, independents, self-managed), I still believe there is an opportunity for a single strong player to swoop in and completely devastate the existing landscape of retailers. The reason I say that is because after all this time, and all these initiatives, no one store really does it right. No single mobile storefront is really great. "Insanely great," as Jobs would say. It's still there, for the taking, the whole thing, if someone could just get it right.

In the meantime, I'm going to go log into my admin console and see if I can download some quarterly Excel reports...

Konny Zsigo is a 20-year veteran of the wireless data industry. His company, the WirelessDeveloper Agency, creates and executes mobile Web marketing campaigns to directly increase content sales and drive users to action. WDA also supports mobile publishers with North American distribution, licensing and production of mobile content (video, games, apps, ringtones, wallpapers, themes and more).

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