A look at m-commerce systems

Jun 01, 2011 9:30 PM  By

We all know that mobile commerce is shaping up to be one of the fastest growing channels or touchpoints in multichannel sales and marketing. (If you need a refresher, see “M-commerce update” from the May issue.) Now let’s look at some of the technology that supports mobile.

Some of the major independent m-commerce platforms include:

  • cart2mobile
  • Critical Path (a division of eBay)
  • Digby
  • Mobify
  • Moonshadow Mobile
  • Movyloshop ($10/mo.; self-contained solution)
  • MyBuys Mobile
  • Tekora
  • Unbound Commerce
  • USABLENET
  • Velocitude

Each of these can boast about some high profile “early adopters.” Which one might work best for you is, as always, a matter of your requirements, the vendor’s experience and flexibility, time required for implementation, system cost and how easy it is for the vendor to integrate with your current ecommerce platform.

Of course, many ecommerce platforms are themselves now offering m-commerce options. These include:

  • ATG Commerce (Oracle)
  • BigCommerce
  • CommerceV3
  • Demandware
  • iCongo
  • Magento (open source)
  • MarketLive
  • NetSuite (Gproxy)
  • ProductCart
  • ShopVisible
  • Volusion

And this list, like the one for independent platforms, is constantly growing.

Not to be overlooked are the direct commerce order management and fulfillment systems that now also offer m-commerce as well as ecommerce modules. Some of these are:

  • Abison
  • Assist
  • Avexxis
  • Celerant
  • CORESense
  • CWSerenade
  • Junction Solutions
  • OrderActive
  • Natural Order
  • NetSuite
  • Omnica
  • OneVue
  • TernoVelocity

A few more offer mobile commerce functionality via their ecommerce partners, but those are already covered in the ecommerce list above.

Which way should you go? As with any systems project, keeping it simple is always the best course.

If you already have a direct commerce order management system and your vendor offers m-commerce functionality, that’s the best place to start. If there are missing pieces and you have a separate ecommerce provider, that’s the next best option. (It may be the overall best in any case, depending on how you maintain your ecommerce data and process web orders.)

The companies most likely to use the stand-alone m-commerce systems tend to be etailers without a lot of direct commerce experience. Or, they are large enterprises that have a multitude of platforms and solutions, and prefer to select presumably “best of breed,” or at least specialized technology, whenever appropriate. And for the moment, it would seem to be appropriate: What works well in today’s environment may be old hat next year, and the specialized providers are the most likely to stay ahead of that development curve.

Mobile system functionality

In judging how well an m-commerce system works, you should look for some of the following capabilities, all of which are able to optimize the minuscule “real estate” available on even the largest smartphones. Note that the iPad and other tablets actually require their own separate solutions, since the interface is much larger. But the best m-commerce platforms have a separate version to support these, making it another differentiating factor in your system selection.

  • Top-level product category listings, plus a hierarchy of products within categories to make searching easier
  • Product pages that include photos, product detail and specifications, prices, discounts, cross-sell displays and customer reviews, with the option to let users add reviews or comments of their own
  • Wish list management
  • Ability to add a product to a “favorites” list
  • Real-time inventory updates
  • Support for promotional offer codes
  • Store location look-up
  • Support for mobile alerts
  • Strong site search (very important)
  • Support for multiple payment methods, including PayPal

Nice-to-haves include:

  • One-click purchases for previous customers
  • Cross-sell suggestions
  • Access to a customer’s order history
  • Support for videos
  • Gift list management
  • Ability to text product details on request
  • Direct link to a customer service rep on the cell phone
  • Ability to leave feedback for the seller

Speaking of mobile payments, the following vendors have gotten into the act:

  • BillMeLater
  • PayPal
  • AMEX Serve
  • Zong
  • Boku
  • Mophie (Intuit)

This list doesn’t include systems like Square, which enables mobile phones to be used to swipe credit cards for in-person transactions.

Verizon, AT&T Mobility and T-Mobile USA last fall teamed up to launch “Isis” as a standards-based mobile payments network, which they plan to start testing in Salt Lake City in 2012.

Meanwhile, Sprint will launch its own “Near Field Communications” payment solution later this year, which will allow a mobile phone to interact at close range with payment “receivers” in a retail environment to transact a payment. Any third-party payment tool can be used on a Sprint phone for m-commerce transactions.

Ernie Schell (ernie@schell.com) is director of the consultancy Marketing Systems Analysis.

Continue to page 2: Mobile Analytics

MOBILE ANALYTICS

NOT SURPRISING, THERE IS AN ENTIRE SUBSET OF ANALYTICAL SOLUTIONS FOR MOBILE COMMERCE. THESE INCLUDE:

  • Bango Mobile Analytics
  • Google Analytics Mobile, which tracks mobile websites, mobile apps and web-enabled mobile devices (including both high-end smartphones and non-Javascript-enabled function phones)
  • Motally
  • Velocitude Analytics
  • comScore

Here’s an example (based on a single product m-commerce site) of the kind of data these systems can provide:

  • 6 mins., 30 seconds average time on site
  • 4.79 average page views
  • 50% new visitors (i.e., lots of people are returning)
  • 51% are iPhone users who convert at 0.62%
  • 22% are Android users who convert at 0.55%
  • 13% are BlackBerry users who convert at 0%
  • 8% are iPad users who convert at 1.53%
  • 5% are iPod users who convert at 0.39%

A few other things to note: Pokos is pioneering in coupling brands on mobile apps with social messaging to engage targeted groups of on-the-go consumers in direct conversations. Sundrop provides loyalty programs via text messaging (as well as email and other media), while tracking and measuring customer retention and redemption and integrating social media with location-based services.

RightNow has also introduced a social/mobile “Customer Experience Suite” to monitor and manage customer activity on those platforms. And the StyleMixer app from apparel retailer Gap lets consumers beam an outfit onto the customer’s Facebook wall to solicit friends’ reactions.

Second, content management in the mobile environment can get tricky. A company called FatWire specializes in this, with centralized editing on your ecommerce platform of content for all types of mobile sites. FatWire also provides social media and analytics modules.

Then there’s a website called Remodista, which is a community site for m-commerce developers that you will definitely want to check out.

And if you want to “roll your own” and develop your own m-commerce solution, the latest web technologies, like HTML5, Cascading StyleSheets3 and Google Webfonts, let you design your site to scale and adapt to any device it’s viewed on. CSS3 gives you a set of tools for creating gradients, drop-shadows, and rounded corners without bulky images. After all, m-commerce demands that you be economical and basic with your site: Less is more.

Finally, AT&T reports that mobile broadband usage has increased 8,000% on its network in the last four years, and it expects 1,000% more usage during the next five years. A smartphone uses 24-times more “spectrum” than a function phone; tablets 122-times more. There are over 10 million tablets now, with more than 80 million expected by 2015.

This is important, because it will be a challenge for everybody — merchant, mobile provider and customer alike. There may be some clever ways devised to compress data transmissions more effectively to cope with the shortage.

But with movie streaming competing for its own bandwidth, and new allocations of bandwidth politically difficult to negotiate, this could be the hot topic on everyone’s mind in the very near future. — ES