Tuesday, 13 March 2012

mobile commerce strategy: via apps or mobile internet

I read an interesting article today courtesy of Tomasz from Moben Google+ which is similar to a question that I was recently by an old client and friend over a glass of wine; whether mobile apps or mobile internet are winning the m-commerce war... it is an interesting question, however I fear one that if you try to answer it by questioning 5,000 in a particular time and place will not give you the right answer. At best it can give you an indication for that time and place, but one which will quickly expire or may even be relevant only to that period of time, in this case the holiday season that they used, where shopping habits may be very different to usual.

You then have the issue of mobile perception, where if you ask people which apps they use the most and which sites they use the most on mobile, the answer is completely different to actual usage, this has been the case since the first WAP surveys of 1999 and the gap just get's bigger as phones get smarter and the app stores and mobile internet sites grow

So rather than  try and answer a question, which requires a bit more work, and we have done for retail organisations by looking at actual usages and trends for that product, in that location at that time, let's look at the general questions that need to be asked to get to a strategy, which at its heart is an extension of the age old "native vs. HTML" debate elsewhere on this blog.

The first things to bear in mind are:

  1. people want to shop on mobile and tablets, and they do so even on e-commerce sites despite it taking two or three times as long, as other convenience factors play a bigger part here (location, access to pc, dead time waiting for a friend, etc).
  2. The key is to make it as easy for your customers and your organisation as possible, not fulfil some wonderful strategy or vision. This is a key fail point for most innovation we take over or try to rebuild as innovation consultants there is no point having a great solution (ridiculous things I have heard are "we have a V8 billing engine we need to leverage" or "we have a mobile strategy (designed for another purpose) that dictates apps but not mobile internet") or the other "we have just implemented a mobile CMS....
  3. Mobile usage of apps vs. mobile internet varies wildly over time, location, handsets sold the previous quarter, the mobile network your customers are on and more: so just looking at your server stats, which is a start, is not enough to keep abreast,
  4. The two give different experiences: an app can easily remember your preferences over multiple devices, use interesting animations and access deeper APIs more easily (though html5 is changing this to some extent)
  5. users will change over time: mobile internet is a first point of engagement, and many customers may be happy with that, and app gives a higher level of engagement, but only for some users on some devices.
So what does this mean? in short, some examples: if your stats show the same users buying over ipad, PC, and an iphone, and iPhone/ipad app is going to work now, but what happens if their next smartphone is an android or windows smartphone? what happens if they like your product so much they recommend a friend but he is not on that platform? 

You then also have to remember that the frequecy with with which people engage over mobile can vary over time, users may use your mobile app for example in the summer months and then the PC over the winter as they spend dark days inside with a PC. It is harder to come back to an app after a few months than it is to a website - the app may have been deleted, the phone replaced, or worse, the app needs updating which uses the 5-10 minutes the user had put aside to buy something from you and you lose the sale:
Mobile apps can be more difficult to return to than mobile internet
In short, if you do not have an m-commerce solution today you are missing a trick. The best practise for this should be html5 and be formatted to give the closest experience possible across all devices, smartphones and tablets, and if possible it should not be too different from your web experience. This can be done by clever use of tabbing and some UI and UX testing. However, this is no good of the solution does not allow you to do the same things you can do on the web.
A mobile internet site is the tactical start, but one that just mimics your web is not likely to work
Don't get sucked into doing an app because there should be "an app for that", fragmentation is rife and the last thing you need is a successful app and base, tied into a an app that is huge and can only be downloaded over wi-fi. This is great for the Ikea app, for example, which you download once like getting a huge quarterly catalogue, however for a supermarket, like Ocado I would question if this is wise, especially in the post iPhone era of Android and increasingly windows mobile taking market share. The chances of getting the same experience with a native app are low.

Don't just mimic one of the browsing methods from your web. here wiggle have just take the horizontal filters from their website, as they probably fit better than all the vertical filters, but their stats will show that at best only a proportion of their web customers use this method of finding products, and so leaves a big proportion of their base dependent in the cold and dependent on the search box, which I they check their web stats most likely do not provide the best customers at all! 

Don't resort to a "view all" tab, people do not browse on mobile, you would be better having a "go to main site" or at least "see offers" or "see most popular" here...

Do think and look at the stats of what people buy on mobile, in the case of wiggle it will be forgotten essentials on a Wednesday night to arrive in time for the weekend ride, for example, so try and focus your site around that, if that is the case

Do keep abreast of usage and see what users are doing, and keep abreast of mobile trends in retail, you can very quickly get outdated

Do keep an open mind and look at what is best for your customers and your organisation. if the UX is ten times better in theory one way but requires a complete redesign of your systems,  you risk creating a mobile channel that is successful, but with a terrible ROI and so is doomed!

I shall be updating this article as more interactions with clients and colleagues provide more scenarios, and will announce those changes here at my Google+ and my company, Virtuser's Google+ or like Virtuser on Facebook for updates


  1. Interesting write-ups, great insights shared that would really make you stop for a while and think about the facts mentioned.