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What is the current thinking on mobile commerce?

By Steve Timpson

After sitting through many interesting panels and speaker sessions delivering current thinking surrounding ecommerce at the eTail East 2011 conference in Boston last week, I want to report on the current thinking about mobile commerce.

One thing to recognize is that every speaker and panel touched on mobile and the influence of this space in everything that was discussed. This obviously means that mobile is becoming a more significant part of any digital strategy.

Of course, this is something that most of us have known for some time now. There are, however, many different approaches to mobile as this space becomes integrated in the business world today.

Drivers of mobile: business or consumers?
The thing that is becoming crystal clear in mobile implementation: it is not easy to do. Marketers and retailers that want an easy path to mobile will be disappointed.

There have been several years of learning in the mobile space and, if anything, the space has become more difficult, not less to manage.

This means that before a company solidifies a short, mid- or long-term strategy, some basic questions must be answered at the outset.

Many times, this internal soul searching – and accompanying business unit support – has not occurred.

Failure to consider mobile as a real customer engagement opportunity is done at a company’s peril.

As a starting point, companies should ask themselves, “Who is driving the mobile strategy: business or consumers?”

Simple to ask, yet the answer to this dictates the ultimate direction and fulfillment of the mobile strategy. Neither is more correct than the other, depending on company business type or investment wherewithal into the mobile space.

Most ecommerce businesses are finding out that a customer-centric strategy is harder and somewhat slower to implement, but bears higher ROI – both return on investment and return on image.

I like that term, return on image, because customers view a brand through many different lenses, mobile being one.

How your brand is received through a mobile consumer lens is only growing.

Developing your mobile business objectives is tough. It will always come down to revenue and costs.

Revenue from mobile will be hard, at best, to exclusively segment out into a business model. Costs are always easier to identify.

Keep in mind, however, that mobile as a cost to the overall business is still relatively small when compared to any marketing or IT budget.

The key is to identify objectives based on company goals and align resources accordingly. This usually involves a combination of third-party expertise and internal efforts.

Internal group
Having an internal group responsible for mobile is also a critical first step in developing and executing any mobile strategy.

It is amazing to me how many companies still wrestle with this issue. Indeed, responsibility means that the group has authority and a budget as well.

Success in the development of a strong internal mobile vertical usually means that mobile has visibility at the highest levels of the corporate structure, including CEO.

If mobile is trying to wrestle its way through much larger company verticals to get attention, the results are not usually impactful to any business unit, let alone the consumer user of the mobile product.

Once a company decides on the mobile strategy – whether mobile is run by the business or by the customers, what the objectives are and how to staff and fund mobile – the fun really begins.

Again, remember, in the mobile space, nothing is as easy as folks think.

Now, I want to take a second to emphasize that a mobile strategy is not about whether you begin with a mobile Web experience, and application-only experience and what platform to start with or a combination of both. These initial decisions will be arrived at through the strategy.

Usually a combination of both mobile Web and app is arrived at, but not necessarily. Look at where your customers are at technographically. These types of demographics are available from your marketing group, either internally or externally.

The place to start in mobile is where your current customer base resides. Do they skew high on discretionary education and adoption of new technology?

One thing for sure: Do not use industry average data to make these determinations, since you have at your disposal, normally, all of this data.

Even in your own ecommerce site, you have information about the users coming to your site through mobile. Use it.

The two objectives that most companies start with in mobile are these:

1. Increase the number of mobile users

2. Increase conversion to sales. If you have bricks-and-mortar sites, this is not always conversion of sales on the mobile device, but in harmony with a mobile device, especially at the point of sale

Strategic objectives
Some other considerations for objective development that you might want to consider in your strategic thought process are:

1. How many customers do you want to reach? It is usually not all. It is hard to afford all

2. What are you going to deliver through your mobile channel? It is not the same as your dot-com site on a mobile form factor. User experience is important. It is also important that you do not assume what a consumer wants on mobile. You must deploy, measure, test – everything. Just remember that a mobile experience is different from a PC experience

3. Look at what devices your customers use currently use. Again, do not rely on industry averages. Bob Kupbens, vice president of ecommerce at Delta Air Lines, said in his presentation that 40 percent of Delta mobile users were on a BlackBerry device

4. Mobile and the rest of the enterprise must integrate. Systems, processes and data, although totally outsourced in the beginning, must eventually be integrated

5. Prioritization is always difficult. This is always a series of compromises based on many different factors. Successful mobile initiatives are usually a pain for IT to work through based on the initial efforts expended to actual dollar revenue received. Do not let this dissuade you from planning big and pushing big because, whether understood internally or not, mobile is big

6. Do not get caught in the geek vortex. Just because you have technical desire to develop something in mobile does not mean it is necessary or even welcome by the user

7. Once a mobile strategy is deployed, test usability with real live people in real live settings. This is not extraordinarily difficult. It can be as easy as a video recorder, a pad of paper and a pencil coupled with a few key questions to answer. The point is that watching users engage your sites or app is really important

8. More functionality does not make a site more usable

9. Messaging integration is critical. Mobile is a channel that affects all the other communication channels facing the consumer

10. Measure, measure, measure. Test phones and devices that your customers use. In the beginning, the 80/20 rule can apply. Consistently capture competitive data, above all. Start collecting data immediately

REMEMBER THAT mobile is growing at a faster rate than PCs did. The mobile business has real incremental value, although it may be difficult to quantify in the early stages of execution.

Failure to embrace the change of mobile will be a long-term error in overall business strategy. This is what I took away from eTail 2011 in Boston.

Most companies are slow to move into new areas of business, but mobile should not be one of them, since mobile affects and touches every part of the consumer experience.

Steve Timpson is president of mobile Web company SiteMinis, Atlanta. Reach him at [email protected].