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Why mobile commerce must not turn into ecommerce lite

The pressure to create stripped-down mobile versions of ecommerce sites is unrelenting. The logic goes that the site or application is easier to load with less imagery and better to navigate with fewer calls to action. But that misses the point about mobile commerce.

While sales on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets is laudable for mobile commerce, the real money is in linking mobile to where an estimated 70 percent of retail transactions occur: in bricks-and-mortar stores. For some strange reason, retailers have been rather timid marrying the two channels.

Retail detail
As things stand – and based on anecdotal data – about 10 percent of all ecommerce transactions now occur on mobile. This number may double each year, reaching a point in a few years where one out of two digital transactions occurs on mobile devices.

And yet, with that increasing share, mobile commerce will still fight for room in the 30 percent of retail that does not occur within the four walls of a retail store. Better for retailers to not ignore the other mobile commerce and focus it on where they have made their biggest investment.

Many retailers have already made solid progress linking stores to mobile, drawing in customers to tap-and-map or search or click-to-pick. Some shining examples are Walmart, Target, Sears, Sephora, Lowe’s, Staples and Office Depot. Lucky for them that they have not just the budgets but smart executives backing risks and reimagining retail.

Most retailers are currently in the midst of spiffing up their mobile sites and apps, adding bells and whistles on them or around them to attract sales on mobile. They have either adapted their ecommerce operations to sites and apps that are simpler in layout and easier to navigate.

Some retailers have even gone too far in the dumbing-down process with mobile stores based on cookie-cutter platforms, resulting in the loss of brand identity or diminishing romance around the shopping experience with virtually no images.

The pendulum will swing back, of that there is little doubt. Flat-lining sales will force some retailers to reconsider me-too features and simplistic in favor of simple.

But while they are tinkering under the hood, retailers should examine a couple of areas that tie into stronger loyalty between customer and store via mobile. Bolstering these functions within sites, apps and the device’s native functions will make shopping not just easier but more pleasurable. It will result in a bigger shopping basket too.

Mobile phone as scanner. Some retailers are already itching to replace cash-register staff with checkout machines where consumers can wave their merchandise’s bar code, bag the products and pay by credit or debit card. CVS/pharmacy is one example.

But an even better idea is to have the customer tap the retailer’s app, turn it into scanning mode, scan the products and pay with the card on file. A receipt will be automatically generated and emailed to the customer and stored in the app’s purchase history. All the customer has to do is take the groceries to the bagging station and load them in. Walking out, the customer waves the app to a panel on the door – the same way she came in.

Of course, the process of ensuring that the customer walks out only with the merchandise she has paid for is something that has to be factored in.

However, it is the idea of using the app on the phone as the scanner that is the point here. It makes it seamless to shop, easier to load merchandise in the cart and has almost the same charm as Amazon’s patented 1-Click technology – no pain is felt spending the money.

Some retailers are either toying with this idea or already implementing it, but those on the fence must jump on the side of customer convenience.

Map the floor. Walmart knows the customer is in the building if the app is in the in-store mode, introducing that feature in 2012. A few other retailers also use similar geolocation features to aid the customer while she is shopping in that store.

The logical step would be to take that geofencing to the next level: give the customer an idea through the mapping functionality within the app of where the inventory is, the promotions specific to that store and where the checkout line is lightest.

While avoiding the big-brother feeling, the retailer can also deliver shopper-specific flash deals to her if the app is on and her presence recorded in the store.

Indeed, start the whole process by helping the shopper find an open parking spot closest to the store.

An added bonus would be a customer service help line that can be tapped when the shopper has a question to ask.

Some of these features are already being tested or in place, but the goal should be to make the app-using mobile shopper one with the store in which she is browsing. The use of Bluetooth and Beacon technology helps.

MANY FEATURES cited are already in apps and mobile sites, especially in those of retailers with deep pockets. What they need to be is ubiquitous and a standard in the shopping experience. Retailers have their heart in the right places, but the wallet in the wrong.

The real potential of mobile commerce lies in tightly binding the shopper and her mobile device to the local store, while banking on incremental sales through transactions on mobile sites and apps when she has left the building. Focus on the tiles in-store as much on-screen.