There’s great debate about the future of mobile commerce. Much of it takes place amongst store owners themselves, wondering if it’s worth investing in mobile versions of online stores, or applications for smartphones.
With consumers upgrading from regular cell phones to mobile devices running off webOS, Android and Apple’s iPhone platform, the question shouldn’t be if small business commerce sites should be implementing mobile versions, but when.
A recent article published by the New York Times gives us a glimpse of a new kind of printer – one that has its own email address and is connected directly to the Internet. The benefit? The ability to print from any computer or mobile device, even if you’re a thousand miles away. The reported manufacturer of this device is none other than HP, the company that’s been known for business printing for decades.
I can see many benefits to a remote printer, including the ability to send a picture or product page to my own printer while sitting at Starbucks. Then again, sending a print image from my Palm Pre while sitting in the other room doesn’t sound like a bad idea either.
A key argument against adoption of mobile store creation lies with one of the most important aspects of the shopping experience: product images. Recently a store owner pointed out that he can’t picture his customers buying online when they can’t see product images and other details on a large screen. My rebuttal (in favor of him considering a mobile version of his popular pet store) was that many mobile shoppers may have already done their research on a desktop computer, and may take the time to complete the transaction, say, while riding the train to work or sitting at a local coffee shop. The concept of a web-to-print device has the potential to open many more doors. For example, an executive can send a store’s product page to his assistant’s printer, with a directive to put in a requisition request. And a husband can send details about a new gas grill to his printer at home, to discuss with his wife over dinner.
There are many pros and cons to investing in a mobile version of any online store, but let’s not miss the most important points – which all lead to the goal of surviving as an ecommerce company. Consider:
- The cost of creating mobile versions of online stores continues to drop, as more shopping carts are developing alternate “pages” for devices, but still run off the same databases.
- Most security concerns can be addressed by advising consumers how to configure devices and connections. Shopping on a mobile device isn’t really any less secure than shopping via a Wi-Fi connection on a desktop or laptop.
- The highest number of people who currently book flights, hotels and cars via a mobile device are business people. Business folk are constantly looking for ways to streamline daily activities, including time-consuming chores like shopping. They already read the paper, answer emails and surf the web while on commuter trains, in airports and their doctor’s waiting rooms. If they can take care of ordering new gadgets and shoes while on-the-go, they’ll likely take to mobile commerce.
Does this mean mobile commerce is, in the consumer’s mind, better than shopping via a desktop computer? Not at all. Right now, however, it’s not about converting existing customers to the mobile web, but rather, exposing your shop to new customers.
There’s also the issue of the economy, which has caused many small business owners to put off plans to create secondary store access. By addressing the mobile users now, you stand to gain more in the long run.
Sally loves to buy shoes online. She gets a smartphone and decides it’s easier to shop while she’s taking the train to work. Unfortunately, her favorite online shoe store doesn’t have a mobile site, so she surfs around to see who else does. Your store comes up in the search, and she sees the prices and ship costs are competitive. Sally decides to place an order and test your customer service policies. She’s pleased, so she keeps shopping with you.
What are the chances of Sally leaving you when her original favorite store finally opens a mobile site? The chances of her remaining committed to your store are far better than if you waited to launch a mobile site until her competitor did.
So, while launching a mobile version is an investment, and a long-term one at that, it can help convert more customers, including those from a competitor’s non-mobile site. With advances in technology, smartphones are getting easier to use, not only as accessories to desktop computers, but, when necessary, as replacements. Argue all you want, but it’s only a matter of time before the growing number of mobile device users become the next untapped market.