Mobility a New Opportunity-and Challenge-for E-commerce

Ann All

I'm old, so I should be able to remember what it was like to shop for stuff in the days before Amazon and eBay. I can, but just barely. Now I never buy anything from a physical store before first checking to see if I can get a better deal online. I can knock out Christmas shopping in a day online (if I take the day off work and chain myself to my keyboard) versus the weeks (or longer) it'd take me to do it offline.


As radical as the concept of shopping via the Internet still seems to those of us who grew up without it, it may seem like nothing compared to the impact many experts believe mobile e-commerce will have.


Osama Bedier, vice president of payments at Google and a PayPal veteran, predicted a radical transition for e-commerce, reports Computerworld, sharing details of Bedier's presentation at this week's Web 2.0 Expo. He tapped mobile, local and personal as the three biggest trends in e-commerce, ones that any company with an online presence will need to address.


These three things are converging, and online merchants will be challenged to offer them all in a customer-pleasing package, said Bedier, offering an example of the kind of shopping experience he said consumers will soon want:

If I've decided to share my identity and location, the [online store will] greet me by name and tell me that my favorites are on sale. Or it will point out ingredients for that recipe I liked on Epicurean. If they're out of an item, they'll tell me where I can get it or when they can deliver it to me.

Gartner recently offered a forecast about mobile applications that meshes with Bedier's predictions. Smartphone users will want apps with location-based services that tailor content to the user's tastes and location. The example in a silicon.com article about the Gartner report: Facebook's update to its Places app, which allows users to access location-specific offers.


Over the next two years, according to Gartner, apps will offer customers the ability to check in at physical stores with their phones, allowing the retailer to offer on-premise promotions and also the ability to add items to a shopping cart by photographing an item or barcode in the store. (I am already seeing this. The other night while attending a production at Actors Theatre of Louisville with friends, one pal received a discount offer for future ticket purchases when she checked in via Foursquare. She mentioned she'd also recently gotten a free pair of socks when checking in at the sports store that stocks her favorite running gear.)


By 2012, Gartner believes apps will also increasingly offer object recognition, which will give phone users the ability to perform tasks such as Internet search by photographing items with their handset's camera. Gartner also envisions a larger role for both video and social networks in mobile e-commerce.


Gartner predicts a slightly less rosy near future for contactless payment via near-field communications, saying ease-of-use issues will prevent it from attaining mainstream adoption until 2015. (And we all know three years is an eternity in Internet time.)


It's worth noting that many consumers aren't exactly happy with mobile shopping experiences, even those not involving contactless payment. As Geoff Galat, VP of marketing for customer experience management software provider Tealeaf, writes on Forbes, a recent Harris Interactive survey found four out of five consumers who conducted an online transaction on a mobile device in the past year reported having a problem completing their transactions.


The survey found 34 percent of issues on mobile devices are system errors, "hard" errors that prevent users from completing tasks. But a larger percentage of problems were attributed to less obvious user experience issues, such as difficulty navigating mobile interfaces, endless loops and confusing information, writes Galat. Unlike system errors, these "softer" issues are also harder for companies to detect and resolve.


This should worry companies, given the 40 percent-plus of respondents who said transaction issues would cause them to abandon a mobile site and the nearly two-thirds who reported a bad mobile experience would make them less likely to buy from the same company via any channel. That's right, it would sour folks not just on mobile, but on print, telephone and brick-and-mortar options. Pretty scary.


Galat offers three tips that should help, all of which boil down to making mobile e-commerce part of a more holistic customer experience:

  • Make customer experience a priority. Your customers should be able to easily navigate your mobile interface, gather the information they need to make a decision and complete their transactions seamlessly. In light of how much time and budget most companies spend to attract visitors to their online channels, it only makes sense to dedicate sufficient resources to ensuring those visits convert into revenue.
  • Identify and prevent issues. Do customers reach a certain point in the transaction process and then not make a purchase? If you identify a customer experience obstacle (and resolve it) the first time it happens to someone, you will be better able to prevent it from happening to subsequent customers.
  • Involve contact centers. The Harris study shows that nearly one in four frustrated mobile customers call customer service to complete their transactions. Make sure your call centers are prepared to pick up the ball from a failed mobile transaction.


I recently spoke with Emily Millar, VP of client relations for TELUS International, about online sales chat, a trend I think could play well in the mobile space, thanks to the sense of immediacy and personal connection it lends to e-commerce. Said Millar:

... In some demographics, chat is the customer's channel of choice. We are meeting them in the medium in the way in which they want to interact. They often want a quick question answered while they are shopping or browsing. You can get some powerful tools to support your discussion in a chat session. You can push URLs of information and website pages to a customer, for instance. ...

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