Internet-enabled mobile devices are going to have a huge impact on retail sales in just the next few years, especially affecting small ecommerce businesses.
Anytime one discusses the future of a particular industry or where a trending technology or behavior may be taking some segment, it is important to remember that these predictions, however well thought out, are still a guess based on facts and experience. Thus, my three predictions about mobile ecommerce that follow are simply educated guesses about where current trends could take our industry. Their purpose is to give you, the ecommerce marketer or entrepreneur, a strategic glimpse at some possible ways that the rise of the mobile Internet usage and mobile device ownership could improve or challenge your business.
No. 1: Mobile Will Make Brick-and-Mortar Much More Competitive
Brick-and-mortar stores that have always been competitors to small and mid-sized ecommerce businesses are going to get a lot tougher — thanks to mobile. Look for this new toughness to come in the form (a) of more digital (mobile) interaction in-store and on social media services, (b) in margin slashing price comparisons, and (c) branded apps or games.
One advantage that ecommerce has typically had over in-store shopping is the opportunity to experience rich media right along with a shopping experience — think videos or product reviews, for example. But some retailers will soon be putting QR (quick response) codes (2-D bar codes) on in-store signage and end caps. Mobile devices can scan these codes to pull up product videos, how-to content, customer reviews, or even games. What’s more, next generation store kiosks will be able transfer product data, coupons, or product locations directly to a shopper’s mobile phone.
Check out this video from Intel about the future on retail kiosks.
Also, look for physical stores to offer discounts for folks using Foursquare, Gowalla, Google Latitude Check-ins, or Facebook. In fact, it may soon be the case that mobile social media apps will actually let shoppers know when they drive or walk past a store that may have a product or sale of interest.
Finally, many multi-channel merchants can price-match against ecommerce competitors. For example, find the lowest price you can for, say, a Skull Candy Hesh (an over-ear headphone) online; walk into a BestBuy, show the cashier the online price on your iPhone or Android, and BestBuy will give you that price, basically no questions asked.
“The penetration of mobile devices that work easily and have the right interface for commerce is rising dramatically,” said Liz Claiborne Inc. CEO Bill McComb in an interview. “Mobile devices will help shoppers compare and find lower prices, including by bar code scanning. They will tap into social networking, affiliate buying systems, and make shopping more viral.”
No. 2: Mobile Payments Will Compete with Credit/Debit Cards
The truth is that credit cards are not terribly secure, and even the U.S. Federal Reserve has recognized that the Payment Card Industry Digital Security Standard (PCI DSS) is one-sided favoring issuers over merchants.
Mobile payments have the potential to offer a viable alternative to credit cards for purchase online or at real (physical) stores. Look for services like PayPal, Google, and many others to offer one-click payments for both online purchases and brick-and-mortar ones. Some of these purchases will even be managed via near-field communications.
“Mobile payments are becoming part of the fabric of success—as mobile payments are replicated in more and more countries and see greater consumer adoption worldwide, it is getting to a tipping point in [the] very near future,” Deepak Chandnani, CEO of mobile financial services firm Obopay told Mobile Commerce Daily.
No. 3 Mobile Is Not Just About Smartphones
Many ecommerce marketers have been focused on mobile as it relates to iPhones, Androids, and other smartphones, but mobile is really about a change in customer behavior, not about any particular device.
In the next 24 months or so, watch for the rise of tablets, netbooks, e-readers, game consoles, televisions, and even some appliances or shared devices to begin to include mobile-like apps that, among other things, lead to ecommerce. The next sale you get could be coming from a customer’s television or Xbox.