What is mobile commerce, really? On this blog, we apply the term broadly to any activity that supports customer acquisition, engagement with your products and completed transactions through mobile devices.
But should we view mobile as its own channel, just another screen for e-commerce or a bit of both?
E-commerce, m-commerce or just commerce?
For many e-businesses, mobile commerce is simply the online channel repackaged for mobile devices (whether through responsive design, web app or native app) rather than a distinct shopping experience. Though not always carbon copies of an e-commerce website, transactional mobile sites and apps tend to support the same functions like menu browse, search, product detail pages, add to cart and checkout. They may do some groovy things with shake, photo or GPS, but ultimately direct the customer through the same conversion funnel as the web, and plug into the same systems.
Others have found ways to use mobile functions to acquire sales in a way that retail or online can’t do on their own. Amazon’s mobile app’s photo recognition and barcode scanning capabilities enable the pure play to take advantage of “showrooming,” creating a type of virtual offline channel. eBay and Net-a-Porter have experimented with apps specifically created for physical “shopping wall” and pop-up shop events. For these businesses, such mobile shopping experiences are independent of the core online channel. But again, to complete a transaction, the user is typically connected back into the core e-commerce system.
When a business model is built around mobile, rather than simply extended to it from the Internet, mobile is more like a channel. For example, a magazine publisher that sells an iPad edition uses the iPad as a new channel to deliver its content. In this case, it doesn’t use its own e-commerce system, but instead plugs into the App Store environment. The mobile channel is delivered and monetized independently of online or print. The customer pays with his or her iTunes account, and Apple pays out revenue to the publisher — after a 30% bite. (Of course, the publisher could go direct with an HTML5 app, but the channel is still mobile).
A futuristic, non-mobile example could be a virtual Tesco store accessed through an IPTV with Xbox Kinect, with payment made through an Xbox Live account or billed to a cable operator. Product discovery, personalization and navigation is radically different from the online storefront – the user is not sent through a conventional checkout flow to complete purchase – and the underlying systems are radically different.
Mobile is just a screen when used to access your website or (though this is gray territory) a native app that replicates the online catalog. It’s a channel when the shopping experience is built specifically for mobile, or the business model is mobile-centric.
You may be pondering if we are ultimately going to end up with a “mobile majority” at the expense of traditional e-commerce. There are currently more mobile devices in the U.S. than humans, and they’re outselling PCs. Many are warning of the death of PCs and a complete mobile takeover.
But we haven’t seen the end of device innovation. Tablets and smartphones suffer from small screen syndrome, leaving room for larger screened, not-as-mobile connected devices like IPTV, desktop/laptop (though they are likely to morph their forms) and table computers (sorry, I couldn’t resist).
The pace of innovation in consumer electronics is so rapid that before “mobile commerce” has a chance to mature, it could already be supplanted by something yet to be invented, like interface-less wearable tech.
E-commerce will survive as long as these devices are used to access web pages through browsers, with universal URLs that can render on any screen. Unique experiences could be built around each device, making them “channels,” but I predict there will be a need for web pages, as we know them today, with universal URLs that can be accessed from any device, for at least the next 5 years. Unless someone invents a better way to search ‘n’ surf, this is it, baby.
What will be really interesting is to watch which nimble and disruptive companies’ business models spring up and bypass the e-commerce channel directly, exploiting efficiencies or innovations of new device environments that could squeeze out existing businesses — similar to how Amazon, Netflix and iTunes have disrupted entire industries. You better believe we’ll blog it as it happens.