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Walmart exec at CTIA: Mobile commerce all about convenience, trust

LAS VEGAS – Retailers are prioritizing mobile commerce because of consumer demand, and it is all about creating a convenient experience built on trust, according to a Walmart executive during a panel discussion at CTIA.

Commercial transactions in the United States are moving more from bricks-and-mortar stores to Internet purchases. The panel, moderated by Soumen Ganguly, principal at Altman Vilandrie & Co., Boston, discussed what aspects of transactions over the mobile phone can be expected to be introduced in-aisle and at checkout.

“It’s all about consumer adoption—we definitely look to our consumers and what they’re doing, trends and adoption in place today, and test and learn about what they’re going to adopt,” said Aaron Kribs, Fayetteville, AR-based director of financial services at Walmart. “Cell phone usage, SMS usage and Internet access on mobile devices is growing quickly, which are big drivers.

“Consumers want convenience, which is another big driver—it’s here, it’s now, it’s at your fingertips and it’s always on,” he said. “There’s a big factor of trust that needs to happen, credibility—consumers have to feel comfortable that their information is going to be safeguarded.

“Also, time is money—if mobile commerce is going to be beneficial by speeding up their day, decrease the time of their shopping trip, get them in and get them out, it’s an a-ha moment we’re going to have to show the customer.”

While Walmart has multiple stakeholders within its organization that must sign off on the launch of any mobile commerce initiatives, thus slowing the process down, it will be an area of focus for the retail giant going forward.

“The question is, ‘How do you use mobile to create expanded products and services?” Mr. Kribs said. “Mobile commerce can be used as a revenue generator and ultimately to drive convenience, and the end game, which is to drive loyalty.”

Consumer interest
Evidence suggests customers want mobile commerce capabilities and will use them frequently, according to Altman Vilandrie & Co.

A December survey revealed that American consumers show a broad interest in mobile commerce and a mobile wallet—in fact, 64 percent of participants were interested.

The U.S. market seems poised for mobile commerce to take off, and the market-readiness of the U.S. is based on five key dimensions: user behavior, credit issuers, payment networks, merchants and carriers.

The value chain is large and diverse, and players across the entire value chain need to collaborate to bring mobile commerce to fruition.

The panel discussed stimulants and growth drivers of mobile commerce, key barriers to mass-market adoption and the next steps for jumpstarting mobile commerce.

“A big piece that we’ve been missing is the consumer and what the consumer wants in mobile commerce,” said Jonathan Bulkely, CEO of Scanbuy. “Ecommerce is a proxy for what will happen in mobile commerce—there will be the same drivers for growth, with the focus on buying physical goods using your handset.

“Merchants are going to drive this, consumers are going to drive this, carriers are not going to drive this and device OEMs are not going to drive this,” he said. “I want to be able to walk in with my Motorola Droid or other mobile device, I want to be able to get more information on that product, see other colors or styles in couple of clicks, and I also want to be able to check out—buy it with a couple of clicks—or scan it myself, pay for it with my phone and go.

“The technology infrastructure and mobile devices support each of those steps, plus being able to get info and check out by logging into ecommerce site with saved credit card and shipping information, so you can see a flatscreen TV, buy it with three clicks it’s there in three days—that’s possible today.”

Mobile commerce abroad
Other markets have adopted mobile commerce faster than the U.S.

In Korea, 85 percent of population is doing some sort of mobile commerce, including 20 percent billing hard goods to their carrier bill. It is a consumer-driven market.

Even in the U.S., though, early-adopters—primarily smartphone users—are leading the charge.

“We’re talking about actual mobile payments on ecommerce sites,” said Jim Greenwell, president/CEO of Danal Inc., which powers Verizon Wireless’ new BilltoMobile. “You’ll find mobile-centric people doing transactions on mobile phones just out of convenience—these are people that have credit cards, but choose to pay with their mobile phone out of convenience.

“For the most part they’re not buying cars but maybe flowers, books and some other sub-segments that will take off,” he said. “Smartphone users are going to use credit cards and other types of mobile transactions for both tangible and digital goods, and the underbanked are making mobile transactions as well.”

Mobile marketing, mobile commerce
Outside of the U.S. market NFC contactless payments are growing quickly, and inside the U.S. there is a lot of interest in it.

That technology has the ability to close the loop between mobile marketing and commerce, but while the world awaits NFC-enabled handsets to reach the market, there are plenty of other ways to take advantage of opportunities to drive revenue via mobile commerce.

“Mobile commerce can be driven by retailers—there’s no technology barrier, and if they want to push out advertising or coupons to drive consumers to their store front, it just takes someone to step up and say I want to do this,” said Dan Loomis, global product manager at VeriFone. “From a retailer’s perspective, ‘How can I pull consumers into my store, save money and generate revenue?

“They can push an offer out to their customers, encourage them to come to their store with a coupon, and for redemption, is it NFC contactless payments, a 2D bar code, SMS, what types of payments are we going to provide?” he said. Saving time and money, as well as ease of use, are all consumer benefits.

“Consumers have shown they want to use mobile couponing and payments, but it takes somebody to pull it all together, and it will begin with retailers.”