The Many Sides of M-Commerce

Physical stores have been in competition with e-commerce for nearly three decades. In recent years, many chain stores have been forced to close many or all of their locations, having lost thousands in revenue to online retailers that can afford to charge less. But today, those e-commerce sites have a new competitor: mobile, or m-commerce, has found traction with a number of shoppers. According to comScore, mobile shopping surpassed online shopping in June 2013, with consumers spending 55% of their time on retail websites using mobile devices instead of desktops and laptops. This number is expected to continue rising over the next two years, which raises unique sets of challenges for retailers, developers, and mobile device providers.

For retailers that already have e-commerce sites, m-commerce provides an opportunity to expand existing outreach to a larger, younger audience. However, some companies with popular e-commerce sites may be concerned that the cost involved in tailoring a site for mobile devices may not be worth the return. It can also be difficult to keep up with multi-channel sales; tracking inventory, pricing, shipping, and customer shopping patterns can all contribute to a successful m-commerce model, but only if you have the tools to evaluate the information. Syncfusion had the opportunity to help one large retailer do just that, translating to three years of work and over 1,000 development hours saved by using the PivotGrid control to track this vital information.

The complexities involved in keeping up with m-commerce are daunting, and many retailers are searching for ways to stay ahead. Shoppers around the world are being encouraged to join loyalty programs—not unlike grocery store reward cards—using their mobile phones to sign up for coupons and discounts. Target, Starbucks, and a variety of other big-name retailers provide customers with the option to use mobile wallet services to load money into an account and use their phones to pay at the checkout line. Stores like Sears and Kmart now offer layaway programs that can be used to order, track, and pay off large purchases over time via mobile device. Some recent startups, such as Everlane and Warby Parker, have chosen to operate almost exclusively online, limiting the cost of maintaining physical storefronts and passing the savings on to customers.

While it is still unclear which strategy is the most effective when marketing to mobile shoppers, it may mean a shift in focus for some developers. Considering the rise in online sales during three major U.S. holiday shopping days in 2013 (Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday), total e-commerce grew 24% from 2012 to $4.6 billion according to Business Insider, and mobile shopping accounted for $940 million of those purchases. It is clear that retailers should be investing in mobile development; the question is whether to invest in an app, a mobile site, mobile advertising, or all three?

Apps are popular because they enable users to quickly compare deals on items and make a purchase. Component providers like Syncfusion can simplify the process for developers with touch-friendly controls that help users sort, search, and filter items as they shop, making apps faster and easier to implement than some other options. However, some users feel that apps lack the familiarity of a full online shopping experience. The ability to browse sections of an online store, add purchases to a virtual shopping cart, and compare items side by side are important elements to consider, but details like these can be difficult to implement on a smaller screen. In addition, the intended audience for a given product may determine the best way to market it for mobile. Desired user experiences vary based on age, gender, interests, and a variety of other factors. According to Forbes, for instance, while men are more likely overall to purchase with a mobile device, women are more likely to make a purchase if a promotional code or advertised discount is available.

Advertising on mobile devices can differ based on web searches, shopping habits, and user preferences. Ads using near-field communication (NFC) are growing in popularity, due in part to its flexibility. Retailers can choose between push and pull notification systems. Push notifications are sent out from a server when a device enters a specified physical range, and users must agree to accept and view them. Pull notifications are requests from the user, who elects to opt in to ads and coupons for a particular shop or service. Millions of mobile users in countries like Japan and England are already opting in to push notifications to help them save on everything from groceries to electronics, and companies in the U.S. will soon employ NFC to send deals to customers the moment they walk into a store. NFC can also be used to gather information on shoppers’ habits, allowing sellers to customize discounts for the products they purchase most.

To accommodate a wider range of shoppers, mobile device providers have also sought new ways to reach audiences. Offering different sizes of phones and tablets with similar capabilities has been an effective approach for many providers, but for some users, devices are still difficult to interact with; this is interesting, considering personal computers have only been around for a few decades, and online shopping only dates back to the ‘80s. Fortunately for those looking to downsize their devices even further, Google announced this week that it would release wearable devices in the form of watches later this year. If Google sticks to this timeline, it would mean that in the 23 short years since the World Wide Web came along, our collective shopping experience will have evolved from browsing brick and mortar shops and paper catalogs to whispering to our wrists to make a purchase.

How is your company responding to the m-commerce boom? Have you shopped for or reviewed products on a tablet, or opted in for advertisements pushed to your mobile phone? Share your thoughts with us in the comments or on Twitter @Syncfusion, and remember you can contact us any time to discuss building a mobile solution for your company.

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