Smart Ideas for Leveraging Smartphones

Mobile commerce strategies to optimize customer experience

Less than a decade ago, the first smartphones were uncool. Clunky, mono-chromatic displays were the norm (Blackberry Quark, anyone?), emails could only be displayed in text and the entertainment phones looked to be taking over the market with modern colourful designs, games and massive mp3 storage. The industry sat back and waited. Better days were ahead.

Then Nokia launched the Communicator line. Fast forward to today’s scene: mobile internet, 3G and wifi, mega pixel cameras, social networking on our iPhones… you get the picture. In our evolving digital age, the global population has become tremendously dependent on networked information and communications resources-which means they'll do just about anything to make their connections, anywhere and anytime they feel the urge. For many of us, the business smartphone is an extension of our personality which now deserves a place at our dinner tables and bedside tables.

How does m-commerce play a part in the exciting tale? Mobile commerce or m-commerce is the ability to conduct business transactions through a mobile device and smartphone. Its pre-cursor, e-commerce, had a modest ramp up in 1994 with media debating if the idea of consumers making purchases over the internet would work. Today e-commerce is a $130 billion per year industry in the US alone. Today we see 148% year on year growth in mobile web traffic worldwide (quantcast 1/2010), exponential growth in smartphone ownership (49% globally) and relatively easy conversion of e-commerce solutions to m-commerce solutions. The signs are clear. Mobile commerce is next in line to become a multi-billion dollar industry. Our sexy smartphones are going to becoming vital to our lives.
What does this mean for a business?

It’s time to start thinking strategy. What tools are available in the world of m-commerce to optimize your customer experience? What trends can you exploit and how? When is the right time to make a move?

Let’s review.

M-commerce is a general term which encompasses scenarios where the mobile phone acts as more an enabler or channel for the commerce activity (eg. Accessing a mobile-optimized retail web site), as well as scenarios where the mobile is a direct part of the commerce-related activity (eg. SMS-based payment solutions).
A more traditional and very effective trend is the sale of tangible goods. A mobile ringtone costs between $0.10 to $10. The transaction consists of an sms to a provider for purchase and a responding sms with a ringtone. One month later, your mobile phone bill is charged.

Why it works? Impulse purchases without barriers. No sign-in and fumbling with a credit card. Nothing to print, sign or re-confirm by phone. Easy discovery of products. All factors put together are generating billions of dollars of revenue per year.

How could this work for you? The principles still apply to more complex products. Focus on usability. Can all or most mobile users access the information on your m-commerce page? Users should have consistently easy navigation and a straightforward way to complete a purchase. The less clicks, tapping, scrolling and fumbling they do, the happier they will be with their decision to purchase.

Another strategy that has been trending minimally for years is finally coming into its own: Bargain hunting. Creating value over mobile has always been a holy grail. The early ‘00’s saw many mobile phone providers attempting to generate commerce or marketing through coded images like barcodes, scannable coupons or coded coupons. Users would take a photo or scan of these images using a mobile phone, convert the image into text and SMS to a provider for a discount or exclusive sale information. Technology was far behind as users got frustrated with unreadable images.

How could this work for you? Today’s technology is significantly better than a code scanner at your local supermarket. Large amounts of data can be stored in simple images which give users an exclusivity factor that is hard to match. Send your customers on a game of follow that coupon or start a viral campaign with an incredible prize and minimal information on how to win it. Give users cash back on a loyalty points system. Scanning a product barcode to register their purchases takes seconds and earns them dollars to spend again, at your store.

A third and more obvious trend is marketing. Mobile commerce is growing in direct relation to the mobile marketing a company invests in. Text message marketing, where customers opt-in to receive news about deals or offer coupons, has been a widely adopted practice as it’s a direct way to engage with consumers that has a high likelihood of being read.

Retailers are also investing more time and money into creative ways to reach consumers with campaigns that enhance the brand identity or the shopping experience. An example is the Stylebook App which allows users to take photos of their own clothes and accessories, create ‘closets’, build looks and incorporate items they plan to purchase. A tie up with major retailers means users can download items from the store then mix and match with their own clothes. Users can also post their photos to friends for advice, speeding up the buying process.

How could this work for you? Creating an app which generates positive interaction with your consumer. Social networking sites can be an excellent catalyst to start a conversation with consumers by inviting them to experience your product. What comes next is the tweet/post/comment/like/snap and flickr to the world. Promote dissemination of your brand by trading feedback with product.

These options and more will open your brand to new customers, quicker and improved campaigns and ultimately, a bigger bottom line. Now all you need to do is convince your manager to assign a budget.

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