By Joe Skorupa
(Special to the eTail Blog)
Heard the joke going around about mobile commerce? “M-commerce isn’t new, it’s just e-commerce delivered at slower speeds for smaller screens.” No, it’s not a knee-slapper, but it’s true enough. Although what’s really funny is how widely it misses the mark.
The same goes for cynical comments about mobile commerce being over-hyped right now because only 61 million people have smartphones in the U.S. today, according to recent data by Gartner. This compares to 240 million people who use the Internet, according to numbers compiled by Nielsen.
And one final cynical jab to consider: “Successful mobile apps deliver great initial results, but after 90 days drop off a cliff.”
There is some truth in all three of these points but a more accurate way to view them is to flip them around:
1. The mobile channel presents technology challenges but also has unique capabilities (location awareness, scanning, near-field communication) that make it the most intimate and ubiquitous touch-point ever invented.
2. The 61 million smartphone owners are largely 25 to 34 years old, a key shopping demographic that is twice as likely to have a household income of more than $100,000 than non-smartphone users, according to a report by Nielsen.
3. Retailers involved in m-commerce today are writing the rules of tomorrow and learning the skills necessary to succeed in the biggest retail game changer since the Internet boom.
Despite some initial organizational resistance by retailers, a recent study by Forbes Insights found three out of four (73%) retailers now have some type of m-commerce program in place, which ranges from pilot programs (39%) to rapidly expanding programs (24%) to widely implemented programs (10%).
But even for those retailers many questions remain: What technologies, operating systems and devices do I use? Which department will be in charge? What are best practices? What have other retailers done? What comes after phase one? What does a multi-year mobile commerce plan look like?
The following roadmap answers these questions and provides a framework for retailers to help create a mobile commerce strategy that best fits their organization and business model needs.
Mapping Your Plan
A multi-step m-commerce plan starts with realistic goals and becomes more complex in subsequent phases, building capabilities and mastering new skills as you go. Here are four phases to follow:
1. Put responsibility for m-commerce under the e-commerce division and then create a master plan. Optimize existing retail web site for mobile capabilities. Develop message-based applications and projects using Short Message Service (SMS).
2. Mobile apps are browser specific, so determine which OS to create mobile apps for. Carefully choose the key services to enable through mobile apps. Some good ones to initially focus on are product search, promotions, shopping list, store locator, etc. These need to be created before moving up to more differentiated apps.
3. A mobile phone is always connected for calls, texts and the web. It is a camera, video recorder, web browser, business tool, barcode scanner, music player, video player, game player, entertainment system and TV. Retailers need to use these capabilities to create a rich mobile experience. Adding social media to a mobile strategy is a natural fit.
4. The final step is to restructure marketing and selling operations, plus supporting departments and services, into a centralized, all-channel approach. Advanced retailers will consolidate customer intelligence and transaction databases into a centralized infrastructure used by all departments. Also, merchandising, marketing, purchasing and supply chain will be tightly coupled. When the strengths of the mobile channel become fully exploited they will be adopted by other channels in the organization.
Retailers following this road map today are writing the m-commerce rules of tomorrow and learning the skills necessary to succeed in the biggest game changer since the Internet.
Joseph Skorupa is the Group Editor-in-Chief of RIS News, a brand of Edgell Communications, Inc. RIS News publishes news, trends and research stories for today’s evolving retailer. Read the full version of this story here.