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Reading between the headlines: Making sense of mobile commerce news in 2010

There were many headline-grabbing advancements and initiatives in the areas of mobile commerce, retail, payments, banking and financial services in 2010 as the mobile ecosystem overcame challenges to approach mainstream adoption.

With so much news to sort through, it was enough to make a merchant’s head spin, but not to worry.

Here are the top mobile commerce advancements by brand, by channel, by season, by issue and by person:

Many brands, retailers, merchants and financial institutions made waves in the mobile commerce space in 2010.

However, one made an especially large footprint in the mobile commerce ecosystem in 2010, and that would be eBay.

The company has made headlines each week – sometimes two or three times a week – on Mobile Commerce Daily throughout 2010.

The entire industry was affected when eBay announced that it expects to generate $1.5 billion via mobile in 2010.

The announcement made it evident that people want to shop on the go. Retailers and brands realized the potential for mobile commerce and moved into the space full-throttle.

Brands such as Lowe’s, Express, Juicy Couture, Columbia Sportswear and Kenneth Cole all launched mobile commerce-enabled destinations in 2010.

Later in the year, news arose that eBay and Amazon dominate 70 percent of the mobile commerce market.

Panelists at Mobile Marketing Day 2010, which was cohosted by the DMA, Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily, confirmed it.

It is no surprise either, considering someone bought an actual Corvette on eBay Mobile for $75,000.

Mobile payments via various channels are one of the most important areas within the mobile commerce space.

However, the various players’ unwillingness to work together further slowed the integration of supporting technologies such as near field communication into handsets and delayed merchant adoption and acceptance of the technologies.

However, Isis may change this, as Mobile Commerce Daily headlines prove.

AT&T Mobility, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless formed a joint venture called Isis, a national mobile commerce network that will let consumers use their mobile phones to make point-of-sale purchases.

With Android’s entrance into the marketplace, applications for the Android Market with commerce capabilities became a hot topic in 2010. A cross-platform application strategy was considered a must-have.

Studies and stories concentrating on the fact that consumers want the ability to purchase via a mobile application and Web site were all the rage in 2010.

A multichannel retail support strategy was stressed in almost every article.

Mobile commerce became an additional means for customer service in 2010.

Approximately one in five adult mobile phone owners in the United States use their handset for mobile commerce, according to the Mobile Marketing Association’s May 2010 U.S. Mobile Consumer Briefing.

Headlines indicate consumers began to use their mobile phone to buy applications, ringtones and other content regularly in 2010.

Mobile coupons and discounts took over Mobile Commerce Daily’s headlines in 2010, with distribution channels such as branded and third-party mobile applications.

2010 confirmed that mobile commerce has graduated to include more than just the purchase of digital content for the mobile phone itself.

Consumers’ mobile phone is becoming their second wallet. Mobile-based transactions have moved beyond buying ringtones, games and etcetera for the device itself to using the mobile phone to buy just about any kind of product conceivable.

Each season offers its own set of opportunities and brings unique challenges. Looking back at specific times of year, certain trends emerged.

January, February and March were all about formulating mobile commerce strategies for 2010. Many retailers had already had a mobile commerce-enabled Web site by the start of the year and so they focused a solid multichannel retail support strategy going forward.

Android applications were launching left and right by retailers that already had applications for the iPhone.

By spring, many companies had already turned their attention to developing applications for Apple’s iPad, which was announced in January and was released commercially in April.

Barnes & Noble, Armani Exchange, The New York Times sponsored by Chase Sapphire, EA Mobile, Gilt Groupe, Disney’s Marvel Comics, Amazon, Gap, Loopt and Big in Japan’s ShopSavvy were among the first companies to come out with iPad applications.

During the summer, retailers and merchants that had not already done so looked to commerce-enable their mobile sites and applications, with various vendors competing to offer that service.

Amazon Payments entered the fray, as did PayPal when the company launched its Mobile Payments Library for iOS and the Android operating system, giving developers a way to integrate payments into the applications they build.

During autumn, retailers extended their back-to-school campaigns into various mobile channels, using mobile advertising, SMS, 2D bar codes and mobile coupons to enhance their multichannel efforts and to drive sales.

JCPenney, Sears/Kmart, Walmart, Target and American Eagle were among the most active brands in the mobile space during this time period.

The holiday season saw an explosion of activity in the mobile space, especially among retailers.

For the second year in a row, mobile holiday shopping on eBay peaked in the United States and worldwide on the second Sunday of December—the day the ecommerce giant calls “Mobile Sunday.”

PayPal saw a 300 percent increase in mobile payments from the official start of the shopping season on Nov. 15 through Dec. 15, 2010, compared to this same time period in 2009.

Certain mobile-related issues facing retailers, merchants, brands and financial institutions came up again and again over the course of 2010.

The mobile Web/WAP versus application debate took a twist with the introduction of HTML5 as an emerging standard, helping developers and advertisers create a richer experience across the mobile Web and within applications.

While the question has not been decided, and while it does depend on each company’s specific objectives and target demographics, the larger players realized that they had to cover as many bases as possible. That means a mobile site and applications for as many operating systems as possible.

Fragmentation in the mobile space was an issue throughout 2010 and continues to be one, although Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android and Research In Motion’s BlackBerry operating systems remained dominant in North America, with HP’s Palm WebOS, Nokia’s Symbian and Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 attempting to challenge the market share leaders.

Many executives played a key role in the mobile commerce ecosystem in 2010.

Michael Abbott, formerly with GE Capital, was named as chief executive officer of Isis.

Mr. Abbott said in a statement that the Isis mobile commerce network, through relationships with merchants, will provide an enhanced, more convenient and more personalized shopping experience for consumers.

Most notoriously, Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s incendiary statement that near field communication-enabled Android smartphones would be positioned to replace credit cards sent shockwaves through the mobile commerce ecosystem.

The release of the latest version of Android, a.k.a. Gingerbread, features NFC technology that lets consumers make contactless mobile payments, interact with RFID-enabled smart posters and other out-of-home collateral or download mobile coupons, along with a host of other possible actions, according to Mr. Schmidt.

Amy Halford, senior digital brand manager of interactive marketing and emerging media at Best Buy, Richfield, MN, advised retailers to use mobile as an integrated part of a larger strategy, not as a one-off channel in 2010.

Particularly for multichannel retailers, customers have an expectation of a consistent experience regardless of which entry point they access, be it online, via the phone or in the store.

Ms. Halford said that Best Buy sees mobile as not only a commerce opportunity, but also an opportunity to learn more about its customers and serve them better across the enterprise. The retailer’s approach is to test frequently, learn quickly and scale appropriately.

A Macy’s executive at the MEF Americas 2010 Content & Commerce conference in December said that security is the most important aspect of mobile commerce because it is what makes consumers trust a brand enough to buy from its mobile site or application.

Final Take
Jenny Rae Cortese, vice president of marketing and strategy at Zenius Solutions, San Francisco