Practical Ecommerce

Is The Mobile Web Right For Your Ecommerce Business?

Among the topics of conversation for those who make 2007 business technology predictions is the extent to which the “mobile web” — cell phones and other devices that access the Internet for information and ecommerce — will gain traction in the United States.

In parts of Europe and Asia, devices with mobile Internet capability, such as cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs), actually outnumber desktop PCs and laptops. However, in America, the mobile web has been limited until now to communication among tweens, teens and twentysomethings. They text message each other, take photos and use phones, PDAs and hybrid devices for email, much like the rest of us leveraged our PCs back in the mid-1990s.

Don Dodge, currently the director of business development for Microsoft’s Emerging Business Team, writes on his blog regarding his Top Five Hot Technology Predictions for 2007, “Mobile applications are hot, going far beyond ring tones.”

Ross Dunn, the CEO of StepForth Placement Inc., a Canadian search-engine marketing company, wrote in an article for the Internet Search Engine Database, that the mobile “marketplace will see significant growth this year as Internet marketing companies jump into the fray and begin offering mobile site creation, promotion and optimization.”

Progress: dotMobi

Investments made into the progress of mobile Internet technology by traditional web giants like Microsoft and Google is the source of excitement voiced by pundits like Dodge and Dunn. Toward the end of 2006, a construct called dotMobi was made available to the business public, allowing companies — from entrepreneurships to conglomerates — to buy top-level domains “dedicated to delivering the Internet to mobile devices,” according to the dotMobi website.

Investors into this effort (which got started way back in 2000) include players like Ericsson, Google, GSM Association, Hutchison, Microsoft, Nokia, Orascom Telecom, Samsung Electronics, Syniverse, T-Mobile, Telefónica Móviles, TIM and Vodafone.

There is no requirement that business owners endeavoring to take their ebusinesses into the mobile environment sign up for a .mobi domain. However, the upside to having a .mobi domain is that savvy mobile consumers will know your mobile site complies to dotMobi organizational standards, which require your mobile site to work across a multitude of devices.

Is It Time To Dive In?

However, does this mean small business owners should make room in their capital budgets for the creation, implementation and promotion of mobile ecommerce sites in 2007? Can’t the mobile web wait just a bit?

“It hasn’t been done a lot yet,” acknowledges Rob Witman, the CEO of RiffWare, a California-based company providing mobile application and services development.

Witman’s chief concerns about the mobile web for business echo the concerns users have had about mobile websites for years: frustrating site interfaces, development constraints and promotional difficulty.

“I’m very frustrated personally with the mobile Web experience,” he said specifically directed toward business and ecommerce via mobile Web. “I don’t see it being a big thing right now.”

Two Ways to Go Mobile

Nevertheless, he and a multitude of other experts say it will be big soon. Witman said that for the business that’s ready to dive into mobile waters, there is a two-pronged approach to selling goods and services on the mobile web.

Businesses could develop applications to be run on mobile devices that would allow customers to buy their goods or use their services. For example, RiffWare created an application for a service called WeatherBug, which, when installed on a mobile device, can be used to deliver real-time weather content to subscribers.

An example of a service that can be run on mobile devices to facilitate ecommerce is eBay Mobile, which allows buyers to search for items, view a simplified items listing and bid and buy on selected goods.

“They’re able to provide you a much better user experience than by going through the mobile web,” Witman said.

The second and perhaps most economical way to move from the traditional website to a mobile web presence, Witman said, is to recreate your site in such a way that it can be viewed on mobile devices.
When Witman says that a business would need to recreate its website for delivery to mobile devices, that’s exactly what he means.

“You almost have to go back and redesign the whole thing,” he said.

For example, if your website features Flash, a lot of JavaScript coding or video, a separate website altogether is an imperative. Because of limited screen sizes, browser resolutions and the differences imposed by the wide variety of devices from phones to PDAs, you’ll likely want to start from scratch with a mobile website regardless.

“It really is a custom environment,” he said.

Simplicity is paramount when designing a mobile website. Not only are you limited graphically, it’s important that your site be organized in such a way that information can be accessed with a minimal number of clicks and a minimal amount of typing. However, businesses that want to build mobile websites can pick from an array of tools that will equip them to do so in a matter of minutes.

A service available on Mobisitegalore.com will help build your mobile website in a click-and-choose fashion with no technical knowledge required. It’s free, although the service does accept donations. This option claims to be standards compliant.

Standards compliancy is important when developing sites for the mobile web — it ensures that your eSite can be viewed in a consistently acceptable fashion over a range of devices. To that end, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3.org), an international coalition working to develop universal web standards, approved a markup language in 2006 to make that possible. It’s called the Device Independent Authoring Language (DIAL). It’s similar to HTML in its structure, yet different in syntax.

In terms of hosting, mobile sites can be stored on the same server that houses a conventional website. Most hosting providers allow developers to create subdomains that point to folders on the server. In such an arrangement, a subdomain for yoursite.com could point to a folder on the server housing the related mobile web pages.

Taking Mobile from a Communication Tool to a Transactional Device

According to Witman, the processes and technologies by which consumers buy products over the mobile web are the same as for transactions conducted via the traditional Internet. For example, he noted that a typical ecommerce merchant account should work fine when accessed via a mobile website.

Nevertheless, the concern remains that it’s necessary to develop an online store in such a way that it displays properly on mobile devices. Also, ecommerce stores should be organized in such a way that mobile consumers are required to do only a minimal amount of clicking and typing.

Meanwhile, companies like PayPal have begun to establish mobile-specific payment mechanisms, such as PayPal Mobile, which allows PayPal account holders to send money to other mobile consumers. The transactions are protected via a PIN number, and according to the company’s website, mobile transactions are protected under the same policies that guide online purchases. PayPal even has a text-to-buy feature in which consumers can purchase goods via their mobile device with a single click.

Security Concerns

Conventional websites utilize SSL certificates to encrypt information going from buyer to seller. Savvy web users know to look for the https:// protocol as well as the closed lock at the bottom of the browser window to know whether the SSL certificate is in place before finalizing a purchase.

Mobile websites utilize something called Wireless Transport Layer Security (WTLS) encryption between “mobile devices, micro-browsers and servers that support the WTLS protocol,” according to the Entrust certificate services web page. A one-year server certificate from Entrust costs $1,199. Businesses can purchase a two-year certificate for $1,999.

Promoting Your Mobile Biz

Let’s say your mobile site is up, and it works across most all mobile devices. Now, how do you get people to visit?

“The difficulty for a small business is going to be in driving people to that place,” Witman said.

Both Yahoo! and Google have invested significant money and energy into mobile search, which by some estimates could be a $10 billion industry by 2010. Therefore, optimizing your mobile site for mobile search is a must for the mobile business. Shari Thurow at Searchenginewatch.com recommended in a Dec. 26 article that site builders keep content relevant but short and that they adhere to standards.

However, a smart mobile-search strategy for 2007 might include a simple communication to existing customers that your online website can be accessed via mobile devices. Let them know that they can take you with them wherever they go.

Conclusion

While prognosticators suggest 2007 is finally the year mobile web will break out in the United States, from an ecommerce perspective, it’s not such a sure thing. Mobile web usability headaches and promotional limitations make it difficult for small businesses to consider an immediate investment.

However, efforts such as dotMobi and standards such as DIAL make it clear that big business is intent on making the mobile web a significant ecommerce player in America soon. That means 2007 might be a great year to analyze what mobility means for your small business and how you can take advantage of it to gain a competitive edge.

Learn More

To learn more about the .mobi top-level domain, visit Dotmobi.org. To learn more about HTML’s mobile counterpart “DIAL,” visit W3.org/TR/dial/

Practical Ecommerce

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  1. Legacy User January 15, 2007 Reply

    ALL signs point to the "mobile Internet" as being vibrant with great opportunities. The .mobi extension also showsn promise as its got a cool brandable moniker "mobi" — and it will probably be the best way to go for initial mobi surfing — too bad I didnt get on the "mobi" investing in the early stages. Those who did must be licking their chops. Well, maybe with .tel?

    — *RogerCoen*

  2. Legacy User January 15, 2007 Reply

    I was wrong!

    I never thought people would pay hundreds of dollars a month for cell phone usage or $4 for a cup for StarBucks coffee. Boy was I wrong. The same thing was said about the fast food drive throughs years ago. Boy, were they wrong.

    We are a convenience oriented society and it is sad to say that we are devoting more of our resources for this handiness. When someone provides a service in a new way that requires less effort, we are typically more apt to use it. When the cell phone manufacturers offer web access that defaults to the dotmobi extension you will see a greater use of this portal. Don’t ask anyone to click the extra ten times to get the “.mobi” while driving down the road. It just isn’t safe you know.

    I jumped in last September and bought a few good names with great potential should this take off. I like the capability of using the phone’s GPS to personalize the search to the user’s immediate locality and the stark format to load my files faster. I’m having to rethink my site design reminiscent of the earlier days of the web.

    One evening I observed a group of fifteen young ladies enter a movie theater. Immediately upon sitting down, eleven of them pulled out their little blue pocket lights and proceeded to contact someone other than the person sitting next to them.

    When I read articles indicating I’m wasting my time creating content for my dotmobis, I have to chuckle to myself and realize that we are already there. These writers are obviously of an older generation and need to rethink their marketing if they want to jump on this bandwagon.

    Steve Merrill – Merrill.mobi

    — *Steve Merrill*

  3. Legacy User January 20, 2007 Reply

    It is important to differentiate each medium, understand its strengths and limitations before creating a marketing plan around it. Most of the websites created so far for mobile world have been cut down versions of existing websites. Mistake: you are applying the strength of internet via PC to limitation of Internet via mobile devices. The true strength of mobile devices such as cell phones is voice activation. Why can't I speak to my phone for a particular service e.g. list of restaurants, price for a new plasma TV. If we can get there, our convenience-oriented society will not even remember a life without mobile marketing and mobile commerce.

    Rgds,

    The Musaras Team
    http://www.musaras.ca

    — *Musaras Team*

  4. Legacy User March 1, 2007 Reply

    Without question, mobile ecommerce is just getting up steam; it will be interesting to see how things ramp up as market penetration reaches critical mass.

    Would be interesting to know the author's thoughts on NFC and contactless technology, and how their enhanced security could be a new paradigm in consumer security, further accelerating acceptance. Merchant account providers and issuers alike have much to gain from system-wide adoption of encrypted payment credentials; merchants have double the incentive: mitigation of consumer fraud, while reducing per/transaction and interchange costs.

    Great article!

    Regards –
    Gray Consulting

    — *Cliff Gray*

  5. Legacy User August 1, 2007 Reply

    Just a quick comment. It seems unfair that the article mentions Google and Yahoo, but not AdMob (http://www.admob.com) which is the incumbent in the mobile advertisement space.
    It also seems unfair that W3C standards, dotMobi and DIAL are mentioned without mentioning WURFL (http://wurfl.sourceforge.net), WALL (http://wurfl.sourceforge.net/java/tutorial.php) and GAP (http://www.passani.it/gap/), which let developers support a much wider range of devices than the other initiatives, and which have been freely available to developers all of this time (an estimated 62% mobile sites/portals in GSM run on WURFL-based solutions. zero% runs on DIAL to the best of my knowledge).

    Apart from that…Thank you for a good article!

    Luca Passani

    — *Luca Passani*

  6. Legacy User December 7, 2007 Reply

    It seems that there is a major service not mentioned here, which is the use of a cell phone in point of sale transactions instead of cash or credit card. These services, such as http://www.mycashmobile.com, can also be used to complete online transactions with greater security than using the Internet, as payments are billed the same way 900 numbers are billed- through the phone billing system.

    — *MyCashMobile*

  7. Legacy User May 23, 2008 Reply

    It is in deed a very useful appliance the mobile phone has become, its benefits are all over the world and e-transaction have been the modern way in businesses ..

    — *Estabraq H – ITech*