Time to Jump Into the M-commerce Ring

Apr 06, 2010 2:20 AM  By

Sometime in the not-so-distant future, mobile shopping is going to be as mainstream as its online counterpart. Many retailers may take comfort from the fact that the majority of their competitors are either watching from the sidelines or casually beginning to formulate their m-commerce strategies.

While there are some benefits to learning from mobile commerce trendsetters, businesses serious about embracing new technology and attracting next generation consumers need to act now to diversify their multichannel sales strategies by testing the mobile commerce waters.

As the usage of next-generation handsets grows and mobile technology continues to advance, bringing the e-commerce experience to the consumer will increasingly mean delivering it to their mobile devices.

Even though m-commerce is still in its infancy, consumers are already getting a taste of buying in an anytime, anywhere scenario and using handsets to buy cinema tickets and make travel reservations, among other things. What’s more, about four times as many mobile devices shipped worldwide as compared to the volume of PCs. Not only are mobile sales up, so is mobile usage.

For retailers that already have an online presence, finding a cost-effective m-commerce solution may be as simple as getting assistance from their existing e-commerce provider. Many Web providers are now introducing advanced mobile commerce systems that simply plug into existing online stores.

By detecting when a consumer accesses an e-store via a handheld device, these solutions are able to display only the most relevant features of a mobile shopping experience, including a choice of secure, mobile-friendly payment methods. Because the mobile store interfaces with the same set of features and information as the online store, the shopping experience is consistent and helps the retailer maintain and build its brand.

As mobile technology continues to advance, merchants need to ensure their mobile strategies are in sync with their larger business goals to drive the best overall result. If reaching a large audience is a key goal, companies should consider launching an m-commerce site, which is accessible by anyone with an Internet-enabled mobile device.

Companies wishing for alternative or complementary mobile technology might consider creating e-commerce applications. These apps also provide a fast, sophisticated shopping experience, because software is stored right on the handset. Personalized services are available through integration with handset features like contacts and existing apps, and location-based services can be provided via GPS navigation.

But the downside to e-commerce applications is that they are specific to certain brands of smartphones and, as a result, are likely to attract a noticeably smaller audience. While there are differences between e-commerce applications for smartphones and m-commerce sites, companies need to first determine their mobile goals in order to choose the approach or combination of approaches that is most appropriate for their business.

Beyond mobile sites and pure e-commerce apps, there are other exciting developments in the cards as retailers and developers begin dabbling with technologies like augmented reality, the combination of computer vision and object recognition.

AR allows information about the user’s surroundings to become interactive and digitally usable. The increasing use of AR in smartphone applications demonstrates not only the strength and usefulness of the technology, but also the added convenience it can offer to smartphone users.

It is not uncommon today to find apps designed for a variety of smartphones that help users navigate and find their way or desired destination using AR navigation systems, similar to how in-car GPS navigation systems function.

But the use of AR technology is not limited to navigation apps, and is beginning to emerge in the mobile commerce space. A prime example of an m-commerce-oriented AR app is designed for Amazon’s Android phone. Using the smartphone’s camera, the app reads barcodes and recognizes simple objects, such as CD or DVD covers, and allow users to do basic price comparison shopping.

As AR technologies continue to evolve and progress, it is likely they will become more engrained in mobile commerce applications and used commonly among consumers.

Ted Hoy is vice president-product for e-commerce storefront provider Digital River.