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CIO Podcast: customer centred mobile Apps

As bank TSB knows all too well, how people perceive your brand is based on their technology experience. In the highly competitive world of online book retailing this is especially the case because of the dominant position of Amazon, which of course has transformed not only the retail of novels, but every shopping story you can name.

Despite the scale and success of Amazon, here in the UK a technology driven service, developed by a UK development house demonstrates that a good technology consumer experience allows organisations to flourish alongside a US giant like Amazon.

World of Books was founded in 2000 by three Sussex entrepreneurs who had started out selling books at car boot sales and is now a primary partner to retail giant Amazon, but also the charity sector.

“We sell books across 30 different marketplaces, essentially these books were going to landfill,” says Head of IT for World of Books Ben Edwards. “Charities receive so many of these book and they struggle to sell them. Just because you have a book about thermodynamics that is sitting on a high street in Middlesbrough in a charity shop, you have to rely on the right person walking in, finding it and buying it. Whereas if you sell online across all these different marketplaces at the right price, the likelihood is someone will be able to buy it at the right price.”

In 2013 World of Books saw an opportunity to capitalise on the mobility wave and build a direct to the consumer service and developed Ziffit, a mobile service for selling books, games, DVDs and CDs. Mobility allows organisations to build services that become unique businesses in themselves.

“For us, the question was, how can we get more books and how can we leverage the technology to get more goods in to be recycled and sold?” Edwards adds: “The obvious solutions was a B2C direct to the consumer App. Ziffit is a site where you turn your mobile phone into a barcode scanner and you get an instant price for the item.”

“Ziffit has grown massively in the last couple of years and now trades over seven million items a year,” Edwards says of how the four year old business has grown. “For us mobile was a key part of the strategy.” World of Books set out to ensure that Ziffit and its App were not “an extension of the website,” and worked with mobile technology development agency to ensure it developed a mobile first customer centric service. “It is so much more convenient than typing in your barcodes manually you can upload them with the camera App,” the IT Head says.

Right, Josh O’Riordan of Brightec with left CIO Francesco de Marchis at the Horizon CIO Summit

Customer centered mobile Apps

“Respecting the voice of our customers is critical to us. One of the things that Brightec helped us organise is the user testing, where we would sit in a room and watch users interact with the App and that really brings everything to life.

“You can often get really bogged down in Google Analytics with bounce rates and conversion rates, which are not very real. Whereas when you see a user hitting something in the flow of the App that doesn’t work properly, it brings those figures to life and how you can influence them,” Edwards says of not being overly data focused. Brightec, a Brighton based development agency has been a partner to World of Books from the outset with the development of Ziffit.

Brightec specialises mobile App development and has delivered technologies for financial services providers Willis Towers Watson, retailers Morrisons and automotive firm Jaguar Land Rover.

“It was interesting doing the user testing, it wasn’t just the learning that we could take from the user experience, it felt like we were learning a lot about the actual brand as well; and how people perceive the brand through interacting on the website and App. I think a lot of that was taken back to the marketing and internal teams,” says Andy Ferrett, managing director of Brightec.

“A lot of the fixes were not IT fixes. The CMO sat in and it was useful to him and a lot was actually the messaging and what we say to the customer,” Edwards says of how user involvement shapes the experience for all members of the organisation and its C-level.

“One of the biggest conversations is the context and when someone is interacting with your product,” says Joshua O’Riordan, Creative Director of Brightec says. “On most desktop systems you are making the assumption that they are at home or in an office, relatively fixed moments when they are interacting with your product. When it comes to mobile testing, you have to really take into account when someone is interacting with your account, but also how quickly, how long they take to get your core message and value proposition, are they using it outside in the sun? If so don’t create a black app?

“For these guys it was about where is someone going to be. We were trying to gauge with customers, whether it is living rooms, grandparents houses or loft spaces. So making sure we have high contrast rates and many of the big learning points were about how we optimise this app for the customer.”

“It gave everyone a direct insight into communicating the charitable and recycling benefits came from this room here,” Ferrett of Brightec adds.

Context, content and technology

Not only is there are high number of front end customer demands on developing a mobile App, but the customer expects a technology experience as rich as they would receive on a desktop device. That means a strong focus on using Application Programming Interface (API) and context centric networking.

“We provide Brightec with an API that hooks back into our systems and algorithms to provide the buying rules and selling engines,” Edwards of World of Books says of how the Ziffit App connects to the Amazon and eBay platforms where the Sussex retailer sells the bulk of its inventory.

But Edwards says CIOs and organisations don’t always have to rely on heavyweight technologies to deliver a great customer service. “It is not always as complex as APIs, somethings work on SFTP file drops, so it varies by company,” he says.

“One thing I would say is that not all APIs are equal and not all API documentation is equal. So a key consideration is, what is the level of work is required to interrogate this API and work with it,” Edwards says.

“The biggest challenge is again context, when people are on 4G and 3G connections, especially 3G there is a whole lot of stuff to deal with, especially around how efficient and optimised a connection is and to make sure that people can load data quickly, so there is a lot of design around that,” Brightec’s O’Riordan says. “On a desktop you can get away with giving away more data that then gets parsed and you can rely on a powerful machine that can process that data. On a mobile, if you lose a connection halfway through how do you go back and get that data again. There is also a bunch of considerations on how often an App is opened, it could be once a month, a year, 18 times a day, so there are a host of considerations about stale data and cache and how you update, and how you hit the API for the next data. There are considerations around assets and imagery and mobiles have a whole range of screen densities,” the creative director says of the myriad considerations in App development.

Developing new businesses requires a strong partnership between clients and the technology service provider and Edwards of World of Books believes this was crucial in the development of Ziffit.

“We couldn’t really have got the success without this long term relationship. Our business is quite complex and in terms of time saving and I think we have access to fantastic talent in all areas of this business,” he says of the relationship with Brightec.

“To serve anyone well you have got to know them well and know what their needs are. For us as a service provider, it does take time and partly it is psychological, you get involved and for us it’s years and all of our team are massively invested in it,” O’Riordan of Brightec says.

Horizon Innovation Partner: 

Brightec – customer centred App developers

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