When we think of mobile commerce, we oftentimes think of simple purchases: everyday necessities from Jet, a ride to meet friends at your favorite restaurant with Uber, or a new outfit from Spring. What many don't immediately think of are those larger, big-ticket purchases (sometimes "larger" in both price and physical size). However, retailer West Elm is changing the game when it comes to creating the perfect blend of mobile, in-store, and digital commerce.

"They might start the research process online or on their mobile device, but then for bigger purchases they want to see, touch, or sit on the piece in-store before committing," expressed Luke Chatelain, VP of Innovation at West Elm. "Ultimately, they may head back to their computer or phone to complete the checkout process, but the goal is about creating a seamless experience that feels personal and human at every phase of the journey."

We caught up with Luke ahead of TAP 2017 (September 28), one of our most anticipated speakers at this year's event touching on all things mobile, to dig into his team's approach and how the retail giant is shifting to support the growing use of mobile among its consumers.

The shift to purchasing larger furniture items on mobile may be a bit slower than other categories, yet that doesn't mean the growing platform is insignificant to the overall experience. In fact, one study found that 89% of shoppers are using their mobile devices while inside furniture showrooms. At West Elm, what are a few of the key factors that come into play when looking at the company's mobile strategy overall?

LC: In my role as VP of Innovation at West Elm, my ultimate goal is to use technology to lower friction and enhance the customer experience across all channels: online, mobile, social, in-store, even in catalog. Customer shopping habits are constantly evolving and we're committed to giving customers the best tools to make researching, shopping and purchasing not only easy, but enjoyable.

For mobile specifically, we have seen mobile visits increase by double digits month-over-month for the last year. Historically, the brand has had a mobile app for wedding registry, but we knew we could be doing more to meet the majority of our customers where they are: on their mobile devices. So enhancing the mobile experience overall has been a key area of focus.

"We knew we could be doing more to meet the majority of our customers where they are: on their mobile devices."

Mobile has taken over a significantly larger share of digital commerce, growing from 12% in 2014 to nearly a quarter of all sales in Q1 of 2017. How has West Elm's focus on mobile shifted in the past 3–5 years? Are mobile transactions increasing?

LC: Like the rest of the web, West Elm has seen substantial traffic and revenue growth on mobile. Even our larger products like sofas and sectionals have seen historic category growth with mobile revenues in these categories more than doubling from 2015 to 2016.

Yet despite traffic and revenue increases, we've only experienced a modest increase in conversion rates across smartphone users. This pattern helped us prioritize mobile and created an opportunity to experiment with new ways to reach and help our customers wherever they may be shopping, researching, comparing or buying.

Shopping for a new bed or couch is very involved, with most consumers wanting to evaluate their desired purchase in person. How does mobile blend with the brand's brick & mortar focus? Does mobile play into the in-store experience for consumers?

West Elm's recently launched PWA

LC: We are focused on Design that Impacts at West Elm. It's about making the human connection, whether it is the people making the products, discovering LOCAL talent in our communities, or having a relationship with the local store manager/shopkeeper— technology doesn't change that, but rather holds the potential to enhance that. While we're certainly seeing a spike in mobile sales, many of our customers are still enjoying a dual shopping experience.

Speaking of involving a consumer's mobile devices, you recently launched a Progressive Web App at the Global Retailing Conference. What was the reason you went with a PWA versus a native app?

LC: We started by asking ourselves, "how are customers actually using their mobile devices today?" and "what aspects are most important to our West Elm mobile user?" Ultimately two things become clear: 1) first, users didn't just want a downsized version of our desktop site, they wanted an experience that worked best for the device they were on. 2) second, due to the quality and longevity of our products, as well as the fact that not everyone needs a new sofa every day, or even every year, we knew our use case didn't require a standalone app. As is such, we knew we needed to create a high-quality mobile first experience that would elevate our brand and products, but would also be discoverable across the web, PWA was an obvious choice.

The speed of PWA allows users to not only transact, but to explore and be inspired. PWAs can help get users to a place where, in the past, only native apps have ever been able to take them.

Looking ahead, how do you see mobile impacting commerce and retail in the next 5+ years?

LC: Mobile browsing and transactions will only continue to increase. With our PWA, we weren't just building for today's mobile Web, but for a future when additional capabilities are supported across all browsers. We believe that PWA and true mobile-first, dare I say only, thinking is the right way to build mobile sites for the mobile user of today and the future across any device, browser or connection.