The catalog storefront was introduced in the mid-to-late 90's, created for desktop dimensions, at a time when tables-based Web design was de facto, pages took eons to load and if you wanted to take an action - you'd double click.
Long live the catalog?
15 years+ later, we're still clinging to the catalog approach, trying to squeeze it into Facebook, apps, and any new touchpoint that comes along.
On mobile devices, no matter how responsive or "mobile friendly" your site is, navigation (for the most part) still sucks on mobile. Menus are hidden behind "hamburgers." It's easy to mis-touch the wrong link target. Paginated category pages are hell. Refine and sort tools? *If* the user notices them, using them is far more of a challenge than mobile.
The more categories and SKUs you have, the more difficult it is to merchandise and support product discovery navigation through menus and search/category pages. The answer is not to offer less than your full catalog on mobile. You simply can't.
One way to reinvent the product discovery experience is to take a cue from the dating app Tinder. Tinder has popularized the "swipe right for yes, left for no" gesture for browsing matches.
eBags swiped right on the idea and rolled out eBags Obsession in August, a Tinderfied version of its handbag category cooked up in its hack day.
Rather than fumble through thousands of SKUs (eBags reports over 12,000), the customer can quickly rifle through large images of handbag styles, building a personally curated list of favorites -- much like flipping through a rack of merchandise in-store.
10 of the first 100 users of the feature bought a handbag, not too shabby.
Leveraging data for personalization
eBags also uses this data to improve its own algorithm, which already consists of 100 factors. This data can be used to personalize to the user who's played the "game," and tune product recommendations and other merchandising across the site (collecting "people who like this tend to like that" feedback much faster than via traditional catalog browsing habits).
Mobile first means understanding mobile context
Though eBags' site is responsive, the Obsession feature was created specifically for mobile devices, understanding that gestures and user context (quick, gamified experiences that are fun to do while waiting in line, etc) are important to the mobile experience.
When designing your own mobile experiences, remember that touch screens, gestures, geolocation, camera, shake/accelerometer, voice input and push notifications are native to the mobile device, and considering them may improve your mobile experience.
Obsession isn't the only swipe-shopping game in town, affiliate fashion apps Stylect, Mallzee and Kwoller all use the feature. But as established online retailers like eBags adopt and promote the experience, it may catch on as a mobile shopping convention.
The key takeaway here is mobile experience *must* evolve to better suit device context. Adapting the online catalog to fit mobile dimensions may not be the optimal experience. Ecommerce merchandisers, designers and developers should keep a close eye on what's trending in mobile behavior, and see how that might improve the shopping experience.