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Mobile phones: The fourth leg of your business

May 4, 2009


Using the Internet on a mobile phone was not widely adopted in the United States until the birth of the Apple iPhone. Before the iPhone, the mobile Internet experience was very cumbersome and difficult for common people. The screens were too small and sometimes it took a lot of effort to make the Internet work on your cell phone.

With a 20 million and growing user base and with 80% of them using the Internet every day, iPhones and other smart phones now offer retailers a whole new market segment that retailers can no longer ignore. Apple’s recently-released iPhone software version 2.0 opens up the door to companies and individuals to develop applications specific to the iPhone via the provided SDK. The software distribution is easy and simple through the provided AppStore application and the result is phenomenal. And this summer, even more functionalities are going to open up to developers on the version 3.0 software. There will be a unified message alerting system, access to external hardware integration, and more. All these new features will bring new perspectives and possibilities to the mobile channel.

Do I think mobile phones will completely replace the computer-based eCommerce experience? Heck no! Do retailers need to start planning their mobile presence strategy? Asolutely. The mobile phone is a more personal device to its owner than a computer. People adore their phones. They bring their phones with them every day and they constantly use them every single minute. Mobile phones have become irreplaceable communication devices that now are deeply embedded in our daily life.

So, if you as a retailer can claim your place on these devices, you’ll be able to place yourself very close to your customers. With built-in GPS technology, you can now know where your customer is at any particular time, and when you combine that with instant push message technology, you now have a way to deliver the right marketing to the right person at the right time. That is a powerful marketing tool. However, at the same time, since mobile phones are so personal, abusing this power will quickly lead to your customers putting you on their "SPAM" radar and you will be completely shut off from their presence.

With that in mind, putting your content on the mobile Web is no longer about merely trying to make your content render nicely on the small screen. It is a whole new strategy that requires good planning. Mobile devices should become -- in a way -- another channel of your business (just like your offline store, online store, catalog, etc). Instead of directly generating revenue from it like your regular sales channel, your mobile presence should be in mutual symbiosis with the other channels of your business to enhance your customer’s experience with your product and your company.

Let's picture this scenario:

I want to buy new sneakers. So, like everybody else, I use my laptop to start browsing the Internet and several of my favorite online stores. Let’s assume that after doing some price comparison and reading some reviews on the Web, I find the shoes I like on a site. Let’s also assume that the company behind this site owns several local brick-and-mortar stores in my city.

In the old days, there was no connectivity between the online presence, the brick-and-mortar store and any other business channels of the company. The online department would expect and persuade me to just buy online. The store would encourage me to go to the store by giving out special promotions that were only available at the store.

In today's economy, this self-channel-ego-centric mentality needs to be torn down. All of your business channels should work as one and with one goal only: to make sure that I, the customer, will buy the product only from your company and not from your competitors. We will revisit this multi-channel issue in later, but for the purpose of this article, let's focus on the mobile channel and how it can become the glue that binds your other business channels.

Go back to the scenario above. It would be nice after finding the shoes that I like on the site, if I could add the shoes to my wish list which will automatically alert my mobile phone about the new shoes that I just saved. Then at anytime, I can access my wish list using my browser on my mobile phone and I can share it with my friends via cell phone or even on Facebook.

On the road, I can use the GPS on my phone to find a store near me that currently has the shoes I want and I can send out a "reservation" notice to the store through my phone that I am coming to that store in the next 2 hours to try on the shoes.

When I arrive at the store, I can have the store scan my phone so they can locate the shoes in the store’s inventory and get them for me to try on. Let say I try the shoes, and I love them but they don't have the size I like. The store then provides me with an in-store computer terminal that allows me to order the size I want online with free delivery to my house. The system will then automatically send a receipt to my mobile phone and my email at home. Using the FedEx application on my phone, I can then track my package to make sure I am home when my shoes arrive.

As you can see from this story, mobile commerce is no longer about having people buy products through mobile-optimized websites. It’s more about the whole personal experience and it’s about leveraging emerging technology to enhance that personal experience in ways that were not possible before.

Get personal with your customer and let them bring your company along with them—even only on their mobile phones.