Mobile book buyers often have a title or author in mind, and searchers convert at a far higher rate, Alibris says, hence the prominence of search. 10% of the e-retailer’s traffic stems from tablets; the bookseller expects tablet visits to grow 5-10 times in the next two years.

Web-only bookseller Alibris Inc. launched a tablet-optimized site this morning. It joins the merchant’s m-commerce site for smartphones launched in November. M-commerce platform provider Moovweb Inc. built and hosts both sites.

Book buyers on mobile devices often have a title or author in mind, and shoppers who use site search convert at much higher rates than those who do not, so site search gains prominence over browsing in m-commerce, says Travis Alderman, mobile marketing manager at Alibris, No. 236 in the 2014 Internet Retailer Mobile 500.

“The full experience on the desktop does not translate well on tablets,” Alderman says. “So we offer a more streamlined experience around search: Just enter a title, an author’s name or an ISBN number. ISBN numbers are especially effective for students with textbook lists, which usually include the unique ISBN book identifier. We want to move tablet shoppers from product to product via the site search box.” ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number, a unique 13-digit code that publishers assign to each book.

Alderman adds that the tablet site still enables shoppers to browse in any number of ways; search is simply the more prominent way to navigate, featured front and center not just on the home page but on every page.

30% of all sessions on involve site search, the e-retailer reports. The conversion rate for these sessions is 60% higher than the rate for sessions without site search. The average conversion rate for the site is 4%, the merchant reveals.


Alibris wanted to get smartphone and tablet sites up as soon as possible especially because the majority of its customers who receive Alibris e-mails open the e-mails on mobile devices. So now, when a consumer on a mobile device opens an e-mail and clicks through, she will be automatically redirected to the site optimized for the device she is using.

Many retailers today are choosing to serve mobile shoppers not by building separate smartphone and tablet sites, but by building a single responsive design site, which typically uses one code base and one set of web content to craft versions of the site on the fly that fit most any size screen on any device. Alibris chose not to go with responsive design solely because it knew it could get mobile commerce solutions in place more quickly by building separate sites, it says.

“We had a conversation about responsive design,” says Madhav Mehra, general manager at Alibris. “For us to go responsive, we would have to take our desktop site and rebuild from the ground up. That would have taken much longer to deliver value to our mobile customers. Perhaps more efficient, but a longer time to market. I wanted to take care of mobile customers sooner rather than later. That said, as we continue to refine our desktop site, we will be looking at responsive design. So smartphone and tablet sites may be a step toward responsive design.”

Mehra declines to reveal the cost of the tablet site. Moovweb says initial tablet optimization projects take from two to four weeks, translating to about 100-300 hours of work, depending on scope. Moovweb declines to reveal prices but says its hourly service rates are very competitive and its tablet sites produce 10-65% increases in sales via tablets.


Alibris relied heavily on Moovweb’s expertise in mobile commerce, saying it was very happy to have an m-commerce technology provider that could point it in the right direction. For example, Alibris asked Moovweb for a recommendation on how to handle site navigation. Moovweb advised Alibris to use a navigation bar that appears and disappears when a consumer has the top of a page at the top of the screen, similar to how some navigation features appear and disappear on a desktop site when a mouse is close to a certain area of a page.

Today, 10% of all traffic to stems from tablets, says Mehra, who expects tablet visits to grow by 5-10 times in the next two years.

Follow Bill Siwicki, managing editor, mobile commerce, at Internet Retailer, at @IRmcommerce.