Design & Development

To Tap Mobile Buyers, First Determine Their Needs

As the mobile user base swells, it is becoming easier to classify mobile users based on their attitudes towards their phones and the features they use most often. Merchants should consider how mobile customers will prefer to access web content. From that, merchants can decide what kind of user experiences they can affordably deliver.

Experian Simmons’s recent 2010 American Mobile Consumer Report breaks down mobile users into segments by their attitudes towards mobile devices. It’s an excellent way to analyze the various ways people use their mobile devices.

Simmons estimates that nearly one half of mobile users are pragmatic adopters or social connectors, indicating that, in the U.S., most mobile users still use their devices primarily for ordinary phone calls and SMS messaging.

Photos are still one of the most important mobile uses, the report states. One part of the survey asked about the respondents’ monthly mobile activities. Seventy percent said they had used their mobile device to take pictures over the past month, compared to the next highest response, checking email, with 31 percent. (The survey allowed respondents to choose more than one activity.)

It seems mobile shopping is still lagging behind other mobile uses. Only 8 percent of respondents said they had shopped on their device over the last month, although higher percentages bought digital content like apps or music.
This data indicates how many in the mobile user base are still reluctant to buy products on their devices. We cited a ballpark figure several weeks ago when Retrevo’s Pulse Report stated that 17 percent of mobile users ages 18 to 24 have made a purchase on their mobile phones.

Emphasize Unique Mobile Benefits

Clyde Bentley, Ph.D., is a Reynolds Fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. He studies how newspapers can continue into the digital age by optimizing for mobile devices. In an email conversation, Bentley stressed that the most important thing for online retailers is to take action soon because the mobile environment is adapting much more quickly than the web.

Designing an app that takes advantage of some of the unique features of a smart phone could help online retailers tap into the segment of the mobile user base that is quicker on the uptake, such as young people and mobile professionals.

“Apps are well worth the investment if you can make use of the native attributes of the mobile system that you can’t get with the normal web,” Bentley said. “Location-based information, for instance; or QR code scanning; or camera-oriented uses. The app will provide a different experience to the user than will a simple mobile website.”

Young mobile users and mobile segments like the “mobirati” and “mobile professionals” are more likely to make purchases on their phones and use them in many different ways. According to the Simmons report, this segment is also more likely to own a device with a large app store, making them the target market for mobile app makers.

Implementing an App

Unfortunately, for many ecommerce merchants, there are not very many options for implementing an app. Designing an app means expensive developer fees and a potentially long wait for approval. And there are different platforms to design for, although iPhone still retains its high market share. Some firms that specialize in affordable app design have been able to make breakthroughs in affordable apps, as well as in multiplatform app design.

AppMakr is a Washington, D.C.-based company that creates templated iPhone apps for an extremely affordable cost of $199. So far, it has released apps only for iPhone, although an AppMakr representative said it planned on releasing Android apps in the second quarter of this year.

So while some app developers have been able to design for a variety of platforms, and others have specialized in one platform and specialized designing template-based apps for one platform, nobody has apparently figured out how to do both and market it to online retailers. It seems the only way for merchants to create an app that could utilize unique smart phone functionality is to design it themselves or to hire a private developer. Merchants with a target market that is more willing to utilize the specialized features of mobile devices and more apt to make purchases on the device should consider implementing an app as a good way to appeal to potential customers.

Brendan Gibbons
Brendan Gibbons
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