Maximising mCommerce

Mobile commerce is rapidly evolving. Customers don’t just research information or shop online, they use their phones for price comparisons and even to locate stores. Improved memory, faster processors and bigger screens mean smartphones are easier to use, applications freeze less often and data is current and accessible. Crucially, mobile has become secure, creating an opportunity for retailers to leverage the benefits of mobility and multichannel linking.

Despite such improvements, however, many mobile users claim they would use their mobiles more if the purchasing process wasn’t so cumbersome, products were easier to find, and if their devices supported secure credit card transactions. To overcome these barriers, retailers must create mobile-specific websites and mobile applications.

Mobile commerce can strengthen the link between existing channels, such as physical and online stores. Customers can start shopping using their mobile devices and finish the process online, via a call centre, in the retail outlet, or even on the mobile device itself. But customers are also looking for information across the entire buying cycle, and it is as important to access product pricing and availability, as it is to read customer reviews and arrange for in-store pick-up. To meet these needs and drive mobile commerce initiatives, organisations need to communicate bi-directionally with customers across all channels.

Personalised content
Mobile commerce is about delivering personalised content, and since a mobile device is typically used by one person, it is an ideal delivery mechanism for personalised messages. There are challenges, due to the limitations of the user interface, so marketers need to ensure that relevant information is a single click away, and should include product recommendations, rule-based behavioural targeting (which can track shopping habits and browsing behaviours), landing page recommendations, targeted promotions and coupons.

Good content
Good content is key to a successful mobile site. Make sure product information includes key benefits, brand, make, model, price and delivery timeframes, and show user-generated content such as ratings and reviews, because this influences purchase decisions.

A Web Content Management module (WCMS) is helpful for retailers to intuitively and graphically maintain mobile sites, extend them, and keep them up to date. The multichannel capability of a WCMS module ensures consistent content is delivered across online websites, mobile devices, or RIA (Rich Internet Application) websites.

Mobile-optimised sites and apps
Consumers are using a wide range of phones to browse the web, and retailers must deliver a mobile internet experience that supports all mobile devices. Vendors can think about how to present product specifications, locate a store, or check prices, and those offering mobile commerce should develop either a mobile-optimised version of their website, or a mobile app. Today’s applications can take advantage of mobile device capabilities such as accessing contact details, GPS and camera features.

Out-of-the-box mobile optimised functionality
A mobile device is an always-on, location-aware device that has limited screen size and input capabilities, so organisations need to tailor their mobile sites appropriately. Retailers with huge catalogues might concentrate on product-driven features such as search and navigation, while those with media-rich websites might run active campaigns for specific products and promotions.

A mobile-optimised website should be easy to use, and deliver content that meets customer expectations. Search and navigation functionality enables users to look for a keyword or product name and refine results by category, catalogue, country, size, gender, additional search terms, etc. Site navigation presented as a vertical stack is easier for customers, and retailers can show top-level categories on the mobile site with expandable second-level navigation.  Links should be large enough for touchscreen users, and retailers should offer shopping cart functionality.

Retailers can use barcodes for customer promotions across print and online outlets, and to send customers cross-channel coupons for online and in-store use. Mobile barcodes are easy to use; customers just point and click to purchase the item. Sophisticated software allows customers to scan a barcode on a label in store using their mobile, check availability in the online store, and buy or bookmark the item online. Barcodes can also be used to compare prices between a physical store and on the web. Similarly, they can be integrated into ads, including billboards, and by taking a photo of the barcode on the ad, users can get information about a product and share barcodes on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Marketers can link offline campaigns with mobile and online campaigns. So, a barcode in a print catalogue can link to an online product information page and a link to purchase the product directly.

Store locator
Mobile commerce really benefits from location-aware applications. Customers can be shown the nearest store location by entering a postcode or address to get directions and find out if a particular product is in stock.

Location-aware guidance services should provide accurate searches in terms of both search criteria and categorisation, but there is a growing trend towards enabling users to share opinions and recommendations. This can enhance mobile commerce services by fostering a community that attracts new users and provides dynamically-changing content that is more valuable to customers than information provided by the retailer. Users can even benefit from the ability to store, access, and share their own location-based information, including notes, images and videos.

With consideration given to all the points raised in this article, and a willingness to adopt a different and flexible strategy for mobile commerce, retailers will be able to leverage this hugely lucrative opportunity and link it to all the channels in their marketing armoury.

Kees de Vos is director of business consulting at hybris UK