Why Steve Jobs Led the Mobile Commerce Revolution

Oct 10, 2011 11:41 PM  By

For a while, mobile commerce was a lot like The Great Pumpkin. According to the evangelists, m-commerce was here. But no one seemed to believe it.

But as mobile commerce finally started to make an impact on retail sales last year, merchants pointed to two common reasons that the channel was finally taking off.

One reason was the iPhone, the other reason was the iPad. Steve Jobs and Apple made mobile commerce a reality.

“The brilliance of the iPhone and iPad devices is that they aren’t just devices, they are a way of interacting and engaging,” says Bernardine Wu, CEO of ecommerce consulting firm FitForCommerce. “Just like the telephone, fax, personal computer and the iPod, they created a totally new way that people engage with information, work and entertainment.”

As such, Wu says, these two devices “have actually defined mobility.”

Though mobile phones and tablet computers both enabled consumers to access the mobile Internet for about a decade, the Steve Jobs-influenced Apple devices became the channels’ game-changers.

“Jobs changed the game for retailers by creating tools that consumers want to use to interact with us anytime and anywhere,” says Scott Cohn, director of merchandising and sales for the Bakers Direct unit of Bakers Footwear Group. “That ushered in the true age of the multichannel merchant who has to be consistent across channels.”

Why was Jobs able to influence change while other mobile device marketers could not? Much like the first McIntosh computer was at the time for catalog production, iPads and iPhones are perceived as the simplest and least buggy devices for the price.

What’s more, Cohn says Apple also exerts tight control over the apps and distribution, helping to elevate the experience for consumers.

“Others have failed to create any better value for the consumer,” Cohn says. “Google’s Android platform has come closest, but they didn’t change the game.”

While many merchants talked about the importance of having an iPhone app. In years prior, most would admit that before last year, they had iPhone apps because it was the cool thing to do. But by 2010, merchants were seeing the value in iPhone apps based on their analytics, and the number of users accessing their sites from iPhones.

And in the year following its 2010 launch the iPad quickly became the number-two non-personal-computer used to access merchant sites for many etailers.

“The fact that the iPad has so easily and rapidly become part of our lifestyle is a testament to its superb design,” says Gary Wohlfeill, creative director at sports lifestyle merchant Moosejaw Mountaineering. “It has completely changed the way some customers interact with brands, and it is something every retailer has to realize in their own way. It has so easily allowed users to engage with brands across many channels that it has become paramount that brands deliver a consistent experience in each.”

Once the iPad and iPhone became major players, Cohn says merchants had their work cut out for them. In the case of Bakers Footwear, its store, online and mobile experiences can no longer be different, as its customer is often using more than one way to interact with them at the same time.

Forrester Research’s Sucharita Mulpuru and Sarah Rotman Epps predicted in a report this past July that tablet commerce may soon overtake mobile commerce as the non-personal-computer channel for digital shoppers. The reasons include a larger screen, rich content such as interactive digital catalogs and the portability of the devices.

And iPads are also starting to make waves in the retail store environment. That, too, is thanks to Jobs’ influence and the Apple Store experience.

“What Apple has done to brick-and-mortar shopping is remarkable,” says Gary Lombardo, multichannel and mobile product marketing lead for ecommerce platform provider Demandware. “The Apple Store revolutionized the in-store experience, with store layout and floor space being freed up for more engaging and interactive display of product and better customer service.”

Lombardo says he’s seen an “in-store device revolution” that is being embraced by merchants, thanks to Apple’s lead. Not only are merchants starting to use iPads as in-store digital signage, they’re using them as a mobile point-of-sale and as a mobile customer relationship management tool, Lombardo says.

(VIDEO: Lombardo demonstrating in-store tablet commerce at Shop.org)