Retailer Interflora launched a transactional mobile site recently, offering mobile users the chance to purchase flowers and gifts on the move.

Ben Freeborn is Interflora’s head of brand development and has been behind the design and launch of Interflora’s mobile site; I’ve been talking to Ben about the new site…

Is this Interflora’s first venture into mobile?

We had a mobile site several years ago (2004) as part of the Vodafone Live network that enabled mobile users to browse our products and make a purchase. Even though the audience was limited to Vodafone users with compatible handsets, you could sense that, further down the line, with better handsets, bigger screen sizes and faster data transfer that it would be something that customers would want and would be of real interest to develop further. It was a learning experience for us.

We also had a separate site on 02’s walled garden shopping service but this meant maintaining two separate mobile sites as well as our main e-commerce site.

We launched a transactional website back in 1998 and it was a similar experience with these mobile services. You could tell that there was potential to develop the product further, but we made a call in 2006, after the initial test period, and closed the mobile sites to focus on our web presence.

The 18 months we ran the mobile sites was a good experience though, and was enough to achieve an understanding that it was a marker to watch, but we needed to wait until the conditions were more suitable and the networks let customers use the internet freely rather than through walled gardens. It was a case of waiting for the right moment.

Why did you decide the timing was right to launch a mobile site now?

Now is an exciting time; we have seen huge improvements in terms of mobile devices and ease of mobile internet access. I think that this is changing customers’ behaviour and they are increasingly demanding a continuation of the online experience. For us as a multichannel retailer it is about extending that on to mobile to give a joined-up experience.

Some may only use online channels for research, then transfer to telesales or stores; the whole journey from awareness to purchase may not be completed all on the one channel. Mobile is a key part of that multichannel jigsaw for us.

It also makes perfect sense for spontaneous gift purchase, especially when we can often offer same day delivery, so the mobile site is well placed for this. Users can go on the site at five to one, place an order, and have it delivered later that day. It’s about having the right product for the proposition.

How did you approach the issue of making the site usable for different mobile devices?

We aimed to make it acceptable for the biggest possible number of mobiles; it is very different to designing for the web, where you have three or four main browsers to consider.

With mobile there is a myriad of different screen sizes, while all manufacturers are adding their own browsers to phones, which creates a nightmare for a designer.

One benefit of this though, is that it forces us to keep the site simple and usable. Some mobiles are better for browsing the internet than others, while connection quality can vary.

With mobile, content and ease of use and navigation are king, rather than thinking about the beauty of page design from a visual perspective. This was the thinking behind features like the gift search tool, which allows users to search for flowers by occasion (birthday, wedding etc) and simplifies the process.

Once we have gathered some data on which mobiles are using the service, there will be scope to make further enhancements though. The Interflora mobile site you see in future will be very different.

You’ve added click to call and card payments – any plans for other payment methods? Is this a barrier to purchase?

We have put a checkout on the site and made it as simple as possible to use, but we have also added click to call tags on each page. Some customers might want reassurance about a product and whether we can get it there the same day. Also, for some gifts, such as flowers in the event of bereavement, customers may want a more personal service, or may need advice.

Basically, it’s about giving the customer easy access to complete the purchase by whatever method they prefer. We are looking at other methods, such as integrating with PayPal but, with ordering flowers, there is a certain amount of information that people need to enter; details of recipients, delivery addresses, messages etc which does elongate the order process, whereas a mobile site like Amazon can use existing customer login details and is as simple as it gets.

Your product is well suited to the medium, but should all retailers be thinking about launching mobile commerce sites?

Retailers with the kind of products that aren’t necessarily best suited to mobile could think about other aspects of their service they could offer through mobile. Holiday firms, for example, could provide follow-up services on mobiles such as hotel locations, while a retailer such as Boots could offer a repeat prescription service.

Have you done much research into how many of your customers use the mobile internet and would buy flowers on the move?

We looked at trends such as the increased availability of smart phones, as well as the growing use of mobiles for email and web access.

With the experience we had from previous pilot schemes with Vodafone and O2 we were confident that it would work. It was also important that we had the right infrastructure in place to facilitate the final mile and make sure deliveries are reliable.

This is an aspect that is often overlooked but it is crucial, if you can’t get delivery right then you might as well not bother selling in the first place.