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Complexity of landscape puzzles some retailers: eTail delegate

PALM DESERT, CA – As the first ecommerce show of the year, eTail West was a harbinger of concerns and opportunities around mobile commerce. Retailers showed both in equal measure at this year’s packed event.

In this Q&A, eTail West delegate and Siteminis chief operating officer Steve Timpson discusses the retailer reaction – about 1,100 executives attended, about 200 of them for the mobile and social media day – to mobile trends and continuing worries over landscape and technology complexity. But there was no doubting that mobile was the most discussed opportunity throughout the show, which ran Feb. 22-25 at the JW Marriott Palm Desert next to Palm Springs, CA. The interview with Mr. Timpson:

What was the biggest surprise at eTail West this year?
In order to tell you the biggest surprise, I would have to tell you what wasn’t a surprise and that is how much of the buzz at eTail West surrounded mobile and how important mobile is becoming to the brand and the key role mobile is playing in multichannel marketing strategies.

Now that being said, the biggest surprise to me was how many retailers were still wrestling with entry into the mobile space.

Why do you think mobile was front and center of the show?
Mobile was front and center of the show because off the explosive growth of smartphones, led of course by the adoption of the iPhone and most recently, Android, by the masses.

This is a new market channel and just like the Internet born 10 years ago, mobile is a market channel that must be taken seriously.

So, in what context was mobile brought up?
Mobile was brought up in two areas consistently: the use of mobile to conduct business – ecommerce to mobile commerce – and the use of mobile in social media.

Most of the questions surrounded what operating system platforms to approach, whether mobile was profitable and in what ways and the use of mobile in multichannel marketing strategy.

What sense did you get with this mobile/social media focus?
I got the sense that this market channel will explode over the next 12 to 18 months.

The key concern was how to approach a technology that, from the user side, is pretty simple, yet the client side is very complex.

I also got the sense that there is some difficulty in interpreting the current smartphone market data – how that impacts the current company spend in the mobile space.

In other words, this translates into difficulty in deciding where to begin in mobile and how this will translate into positive ROI.

Is 2010 going to be a tipping point for mobile commerce?
I believe that 2010 will be a tipping point for 3G bandwidth and smartphone user subscriptions.

I think that 2010 will be a user tipping point for online retailers to set mobile strategy.

And although a significant improvement in mobile commerce from 2009, the way budgeting works in companies, I believe 2011 will be the tipping point for mobile site development.

You spoke with exhibitors and attendees at eTail West. You heard the speakers. What were your takeaways from the show?
First, mobile adoption is top of mind with all Internet teams and companies.

Next, there is confusion, generally speaking, about how to approach mobile due to the complexity of the landscape.

Some of the issues raised included where to begin with app, WAP, SMS and social and how to incorporate mobile in marketing across the enterprise.

Another area of confusion is, will my customer view my site on mobile. Crazy, but more than a few companies were still on the fence.

My discussions with folks in this area illustrated a real lack of knowledge about the current state of mobile technology and customer usage.