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A new research paper on the future of mobile commerce, published by Strategy Analytics, reveals that 67% of smartphone owners use their phones to find deals and compare prices. But the actual point of purchase is the least popular activity on all mobile devices. Mobile clearly can’t be ignored as a channel to attract and interact with customers, but what should retailers be doing about mobile payments?

Many retailers are wrestling with the challenges set by increasingly mobile customers. But “mobile” itself may be a bit of a red herring. “Mobile” shoppers will most likely fall into one of three camps:

1. at home
2. in store
3. out and about

And that’s the key: creating a mobile strategy that meets the needs of customers at a particular time and place – putting things into context.

On location

There’s a general trend among people browsing at home, away from desktop computers and towards tablets. It’s easy to understand why, as tablets are both more convenient and more engaging than PCs, while having bigger screens than smartphones.

But once these “Downton Abbey shoppers” leave the house, they’re more likely to resort to a mobile phone. It’ll be this device that your customers carry into your store – and that changes the dynamic.

It’s all about identifying opportunities to add value and improve the experience at each stage.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Why are they using a smartphone? While they’re out and about they’ll expect quick and easy access to information about your nearest store and available stock. In the store they might benefit from store layout help, easy access to further product information or current offers – through things such as QR codes, which make jumping off to sites easier and quicker on a mobile.

Special effects

Of course, retail is all about securing the sale. But one thing that came through loud and clear at NRF this year was the fact that new payments technologies have to make the consumer’s life simpler and easier. So, while there’s a lot of noise about mobile payments, technologies such as NFC – one of the main contenders for linking mobile phones and payments – aren’t necessarily putting the interests of the customer first.

However they choose to pay, customers want a frictionless process wherever they are – and that’s one of the stumbling blocks with mobile at the moment.

The fact is, retailers can take money quite easily in-store just now. NFC for payments in store is not a problem that needs to be solved. That doesn’t mean NFC has no role to play in store, but its strength may lie elsewhere, for example, as a way to provide easy access to information and offers through in-store contact points.

Big budget production

So how do you solve the problem of mobile payments? There were three main approaches put forward at NRF:

1. The ‘wallet in the cloud’ – led by PayPal and Google
2. The mobile device – championed by NFC technology suppliers
3. Direct transfer exchanges – run by retailers fed up paying the middle men

Strategy Analytics’ research into NFC reveals: “The ramp up is extremely slow and even years from now we are expecting only a minority of consumers will use mobile payments; 158M users, or 2.9% of total cellular users in 2017.”

If we once again put ourselves in the shoes of the consumer and ask what’s best for them, the wallet in the cloud seems to be the most convenient. It promises a frictionless payment experience regardless of channel, and customers can bundle loyalty cards and e-vouchers. But this still doesn’t help with the here and now.

Out now!

There’s no future proof answer to mobile payments as the dance between the different technologies and approaches plays out. But what is clear from these latest findings is that it’s vital that you take mobile seriously and build a solid foundation for your mobile channel.

Just now, that means ensuring your mobile channels provide a brand experience consistent with your other channels. And creating a mobile friendly site that’s designed to meet the needs of mobile users – so that it works on a smaller screen, with the most appropriate information brought to the fore and easy to access (through bigger buttons and simpler buying steps).

Like most other aspects of retail, it’s all about having the right things in the right place, at the right time.

Video: Watch a BBC report on NFC, mobiles and e-wallets

Posted by Jason Shorrock, Product Director, BT Expedite

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