DM: So Jason, give us the Usablenet story if you would please.
JT: Sure, we’ve been going for 11 years. We were originally focused on web accessibility, so our first service platform allowed us to create an accessible, text-only version of a website, to comply with Section 508 ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) in the US and DDA (Disability Discrimination Act) laws elsewhere.
Today, we are very much focused on integration and multichannel. Retailers have been doing multichannel for 10 years, but only in the sense of having an online store, catalogue, phone and a bricks & mortar store; they have not integrated them, but they need to, when you look at stats from Forrester saying that 27 per cent of smartphone users use their phone in store as part of the purchase process. So we want to become the multichannel platform partner for our growing client base and we think of two companies in this respect – IBM and Oracle; that’s where we are aiming to be.
DM: And we’re in your London office, how long have you had this presence?
JT: We’ve been in London six months, and we have 35 staff here already. We have 31 clients now in the UK, out of 220 mobile clients and 300 across all systems globally, so we needed a presence in London to service this business.
DM: You certainly seem to be picking up a lot of business, particularly mobile sites for retailers. How are you doing it?
JS: Well our first client on the mobile front in the US was Amtrak, and in the UK, it was British Airways. I think this was because business travellers led the way in terms of smartphone usage, having data plans, that kind of thing. Then the iPhone came along and made the rest of the world change their perception of what they could do with a phone. Before the iPhone, people would only do the most important stuff, but the iPhone changed this.
Today, we do have a lot of retail clients. In the UK, those 31 clients include seven of the top 10 retailers, including Tesco, M&S, Mothercare and Sainsbury’s. In the US, most are Fortune 1000 companies. They come to us, I believe, because of our unique, transformative technology platform. Clients want four things: agility, scale, security and innovation, and our platform delivers these.
DM: So talk us through each of those if you would please Jason.
JT: Agility is all about being able to do lots of things quickly. The web used to be quick, but now, if you’re looking to perform a major change on an eCommerce platform, it is typically a 6-12 month project. We deliver agility, in that there is no systems integration required. It’s an 8-week implementation. Companies tell us which features they have on their website that they want on their mobile site. The important part is that we can work from web services, but also from the website itself.
DM: What’s the significance of that?
JT: If you want to build a mobile version of a website, you need a data source to re-present back out, which is a web service. The way to build a website is to build is using web services, so you have a web service for store availability, an a web service for payment systems, etc. But over the years, the lines between the two have moved, so lots of these things have not been delivered as a web service, but have been built into the website itself, and most mobile platforms can’t handle this. This is why most apps are not transactional, because the web service to enable that has not been built. But we can deliver it from the website, which is what makes us unique. It enables us to deliver functionality quickly to our clients.
DM: So tell us about scale.
JT: When you are working with Fortune 1000 clients, you need scale, and the ability to support global brands. We have just launched Fedex in 141 countries and 47 languages, for example. You need scale for testing, for quality assurance, the ability to know different devices. Companies like BA and Tesco are global companies, and mobile will be a global component of their offering.
You also need the ability to combine sources, such as the website and web services, and you need a platform that can support not just mobile sites and apps, but in-store kiosks and Facebook stores. Client need to be everywhere; it used to be about offering support for users on their mobile device, but now it’s about supporting them, wherever they are.
DM: And what about security?
JT: We typically handle 5 - 10 per cent of a client’s online traffic via mobile, so we have a deliberate process for security that is PCI compliant and HIPAA compliant. Nothing is stored, cached or databased, it’s all done on the fly. So whatever security is built into the PC website is maintained when it goes out to mobile or to a kiosk.
DM: And innovation?
JT: We have built an HTML5 mobile platform to enable us to deliver distinct optimised experiences for mobile, for kiosks and for Facebook stores, so you will start to see some really cool features, such as scrolling banners on the ASOS mobile site; expandable navigation, where you drill down to the next level, without a page refresh); MiniCarts that give you a 5-second pop-up showing you the last product you added to your basket, or that you can call up at any time to see what’s in your basket, without having to navigate away from the page that you’re on.
DM: That all sounds great, but it’s by no means the norm at present is it, in terms of what you are delivering for your clients? I do hear people saying that a lot of your sites have a templated, ‘me-too’ feel about them. What’s your response to that?
JT: Whatever the client wants, we build it. We can build a very bespoke look and feel and functionality, but that needs a UI (User Interface) team and a UX (User Experience) team to implement it. It’s no different from a lot of websites looking the same – people are doing it to a cost.
DM: So if that’s the case, what the difference, in terms of cost, between having a basic, ‘me-too’ site and an all-singing, all-dancing HTML5 one with scrolling banners, expandable navigation and everything else. 2x? 3x? 4x?
JT: You’re looking at 50 per cent more for the better site.
DM: Really, is that all?
JT: Yes, and I think you will see more companies going for more bespoke solutions now as mobile becomes less of a pet project and is seen as a real channel that makes money. If you look at what ASOS are doing, for example, they are trying to create this social interaction through Facebook, where people can review their stuff on Facebook. So the next step is a social catalogue, where people on Facebook can see the ASOS stuff their friends like or have bought on Facebook. The limitation on Facebook is that it is not a great infrastructure platform, but this is where they are going with it.
We will also see brands using apps much more for brand loyalty and brand-building, looking at how they can use apps as a tool they can use in their stores, hotels or wherever. Then you will have the kiosks or assisted kiosks; sales assistants with iPads selling to people in store, there’s a lot of great stuff to come in the next couple of years.
Jason Taylor is VP Platform at Usablenet