Mobile Commerce: Still Evolving

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evolve_smallADOTAS – Mobile commerce is at our fingertips, metaphorically and figuratively. Technologists impatiently clamor for mCommerce to become a reality, while some insist that we’re already there.

Maybe we are, at least within our small mobile ecosystem — but I believe we still have a lot of work to do before making mCommerce a broad reality.

Recent movement in the market seems to suggest that we’re getting closer. In the past month, PayPal introduced launch PayPal for mobile on the iPhone, touting itself as “the wallet in the cloud, and Visa made a $2 billion investment in mobile commerce through the purchase of CyberSource.

While mega-brands and major innovators continue to move forward and work on mCommerce applications of substance, the vast majority of companies in the middle are still trying to figure out how to catch the mobile wave.

Mobile commerce remains “the next big thing” for us mobile marketers. An obvious statement for anyone who has an iPhone and has purchased music or an app, or has read a book on Kindle. Consumers are growing increasingly comfortable with purchasing digital goods such as ringtones, music, apps, etc., through their mobile devices, with immediate gratification.

Apple has proven to be a pioneer in the space with the iPhone and its appstore. The iPhone has made mobile purchasing of applications and music second nature to most device owners, but unfortunately, the “good” being purchased is still only usable through the iPhone itself.

The continued acceptance of m-Commerce over these devices lays the groundwork toward where we need to move the industry as digital marketers. Too often, we view the devices simply as another channel to push advertising to consumers.

The reality is that mobile phones are still utilitarian devices that are designed to do a handful of things very well, but they were not, and should not, be designed to merely stream advertising to consumers.

As consumers continuing to become savvier in their ability to avoid advertising, the push approach to mobile advertising will continue to abate in prominence. Consumers are inundated with advertising regardless of their choice of device for receiving information. They continue to figure out new ways to tune out and work around advertisements on TV and online, and it’s only a matter of time before they turn out irrelevant adds delivered over a mobile device.

Combined with a growing understanding of one’s digital identity and privacy concerns (thank you Facebook), consumers will continually become more in tune with their ability to opt-out of marketing messages. In fact, this could lead to a shakedown in our industry similar to the one telemarketers faced with the “Do Not Call” list bask in 2004.

As marketers, we need to be ahead of the curve and make sure we’re giving consumers offers and content they want — or we’ll end up on the outside looking in, trying to figure out new ways to keep people from avoiding our messages.

And for a consumer who is ready to buy, the mobile device remains one of the most convenient methods for making a purchase. Marketers should focus not on standard advertisements, but on uses/applications that ultimately transform the m-commerce experience and make it easier and more convenient for all users to capitalize on this technology to purchase products and services.

So, what do we need to do to make mobile commerce part of the mainstream? Significant advances in three main areas still need to be addressed before we can truly move forward:

Usability. There is still a long way to go to ensure that purchasing on a mobile device is as easy as possible. It can’t be more than a handful of clicks, and that includes entering payment (or even better — not entering payment information but initiating automatic billing by just entering a simple mobile purchase password) and shipping information (no need).

Companies like Amazon and eBay have done a good job with iPhone applications that enable users to easily access their account settings but the next step is making this capability as easy as possible via the mobile Web or even SMS.

Payments. This is the area that will ultimately help the predictions of a mobile future come true. There are new technologies that are making this much easier, and PayPal continues to innovate in the space. But we’re not at the point where a mobile user can walk up to a kiosk and pay with their cell phone—yet.

This is where carriers and brand like Visa have the opportunity to innovate. Visa took the first step with the acquisition of CyberSource, but for the promise of m-Commerce to be realized, Carriers need to come up with new ways to develop a credit product for mobile users.

Tying a credit account to individual IMEI numbers for single click purchases would help overcome the purchasing barriers we face today. Maybe this is the direction Visa is going, knowing that security will be the priority concern.

Proximity. Current “proximity” based m-Commerce focuses mostly on items such as electronic ticket delivery (so the ticket can be scanned form a phone). Mobile ticketing has existing in various forms for several years now, enabling consumers to purchase tickets to sporting events, movies, concerts, etc…, and have the tickets scanned from their mobile device.

While this type of thinking and innovation is where m-Commerce currently resides, creating convenience and delivering these goods in new ways, proximity continues to be a huge missed opportunity.

Location-based services such as Foursquare have given us a clue as to where proximity based commerce can go. Let’s say you’re at an event, watching a NASCAR race, a ball game, or at a concert. You want to purchase something, but you don’t want to miss the action, wait in line, or carry your stuff with you for the rest of the evening.

Proximity-based mobile commerce means that you should be able to purchase your goods by simply sending a text message in response to a creative that tie into display advertising at the event. This is already happening, at a smaller scale – mostly by allowing users to send messages via SMS to display on big screens while waiting for an event to start.

This is common at concerts and at certain event arenas like the Staples Center in LA. This is the proverbial tip of the iceberg – there’s much more than can be done here with existing technologies.

So is the m-commerce future here? Yes and no — we certainly have the ability to make a purchase through a mobile device, so maybe that’s a bad question.

Do we know what mobile purchasing will look like in three to five years? The answer to that is no – and that’s a good thing, because there’s a huge opportunity for brands, creative agencies, technology providers, payment platforms and carriers to build a better mobile future.

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