This is the first of a two-part series on non-traditional retail systems in Canada (Part II is available here).
Okay, I've heard of eCommerce... but what the heck is mCommerce??!
If you just asked yourself that, don't worry- you're not alone. Just like eCommerce was on the bleeding edge of retail technology at the turn of the century, we're now seeing the emergence of some extremely innovative commerce and retail applications for mobile platforms. As with the development of most new technologies, we're currently experiencing an explosion of competing products and services that directly precedes the eventual consolidation and standardization across an industry.
As a small business owner in Canada, one of your key questions about mCommerce systems should be this: are people actually using this technology to make purchases?
mCommerce is any retail technology that acts as a consumer purchasing system which replaces or complements the traditional Canadian in-store Point-of-Sale. This differs from eCommerce in one key way: eCommerce systems are designed to completely replace the traditional brick-and-mortar retail model. Simply put, there's no physical store front, and all of the traditional retailing functions (on the consumer side) are replaced by an online store.
Canadian mCommerce can mimic this approach by offering a digital storefront which is custom-designed for mobile platforms (usually in the form of a mobile-friendly website and secure shopping cart/payment systems). But, and this is a really fascinating but, mCommerce is also being used to enhance the traditional in-store and retailing experience (particularly in hospitality services). For instance, Starbucks offers a payment system for mobile devices which allows its customers to purchase in-store goods via the generation of a QR Code through the Starbucks Mobile App (this incorporates process elements of the mobile wallet concept; a subject for another day).
So, are people actually making purchases through mCommerce systems?
Short answer: Yes. Longer answer: Not as frequently as eCommerce or traditional store visits. However, the adoption rate of mCommerce by consumers in Canada is rather astonishing. KPMG's annual Consumers and Convergence Survey revealed that the number of people who used a wireless mobile device to make a purchase in 2010 doubled over the 2009 number
(which was up 30% or so from the previous survey). The Canadian Payments Association is fully onboard with this trend- one of their key priorities in developing the Vision2020 Strategy is to establish industry standards and a framework for mobile device payments.
Should you rush out to put together an mCommerce system to support
your existing operations right now? Probably not, unless you're a small business owner in the Canadian consumer packaged goods or hospitality/retail food services and cater to an affluent, technologically-savvy crowd (here's a good measure: how often do you see your customers whip out the latest BlackBerry, iPhone, or Android device?). Keeping an eye on the development of mCommerce systems and including a medium to long term goal of developing the infrastructure necessary to support mCommerce in the future is absolutely essential for the majority of B2C businesses, however. One day, you will have to go there to keep up; and spending a couple of thousand dollars now to prepare makes more sense than having to do a complete overhaul at the 11th hour (which will cost a lot more).
Top 5 Considerations for Bringing mCommerce to Your Business
1. Be a Savvy Planner - where does mCommerce fit in your sales model? What are your goals? How will you measure success?
2. Be Design Conscious - consumers using mCommerce are tech savvy: if the application is poorly designed, it will hurt your brand equity and kill the sale
3. Be Data Driven - ensure a robust analytics platform is built into your mCommerce system, so you can enhance your USP as time goes on
4. Be Security Conscious - consumers want to know that you're doing everything within reason to protect their personal information
5. Be Innovative - if you're not offering consumers a serious value-added with mCommerce, what's the point? Remember: the purpose of technology is to make our lives easier.
Your Mobile-Ready Implementation Plan
If you don't have a strong in-house web team, talk to an expert. Trust us, you'll save a lot of time and bypass the lion's share of the growing pains by getting expert advice and help in execution right from the beginning.
1. Invest in a mobile assessment - is your website mobile friendly across all three major smartphone platforms? Is your content mobile optimized? Does your content management system include mobile content options and tracking features specific to mobile? If your website IS mobile friendly, does the deployment include a browser sniffer? Mobile users won't punch in the URL for your mobile website, they'll punch in the URL for your regular website -- your website needs a mechanism to detect a mobile device and automatically serve up the optimized content.
2. Plan for digital - it's not impossible, really. Your existing promotions (contests, sweepstakes, coupons) port over to web and mobile technologies very easily. After all- most web and mobile applications were designed to make the real world easier and more fun.
3. Once you cross the threshold, don't look back - you've prepared, you've planned, you're ready to execute... so go do it. That's how you built your business in the first place, right?
Q&A: How does it go mobile?
Q: I already have a web video promoting my store online, and it's hosted on YouTube. How do I get this on mobile?
A: QR Codes! Use a QR Code on an advertisement, exterior signage (think roadside or store exterior in a mall/managed property). To fuel user engagement even more, you could use these QR Codes in an 'easter-egg hunt' style promotion (we've done it before, and people love them!).
Q: I run a monthly sweepstake through my website to build my marketing list and enhance CRM. How can I use mobile to fuel this growth?
A: Location-based check-ins! Add an element to your sweepstake encouraging users to check in with foursquare and offer nifty, innovative prizes to drive engagement. These customers will actually advertise for your business for free every single time they visit you in the future and check in. Turning customers into brand ambassadors is a great way to drive traffic... and it doesn't cost much (you'll spend more on one media buy for a newspaper ad).
Q: I'm trying to build out an exceptional customer-service team. Can I make this more efficient or user-friendly by adopting mobile technologies?
A: Absolutely! Services like live chatting can be migrated to mobile by integrating a 'live chat' function into your website, and ensuring that its design is mobile-friendly. Even a year ago, this would have been prohibitively expensive for many small business owners in Canada, but advances in coding via the html5 covenant are making many processes which previously had to be custom-developed a standard part of the web's native language.
"QR Code" is a trademark of Denso-Wave Inc., used with implicit permission.
CPA Payments Strategy, Vision2020
KPMG International, 4th Annual Consumers and Convergence Survey (2010)