eCommerce has been making waves for years. The UK’s online retail trade in clothing, books and sporting goods already outstrips sales made in-store. Consumers have higher levels of trust and confidence in remote shopping than ever before. Yet there are millions of people in both developed and developing markets whose primary connection to the Internet is via a mobile device. So, it’s surprising to those of us who work in the mobile internet, that the leap from fixed Internet-based eCommerce to mobile commerce hasn’t been quicker.
There will undoubtedly be challenges for brands and retailers in making this transition, but a close look at the state of play around the world tells us one thing: we’re ready for the start of a mobile commerce revolution. All the pieces are in place. And if you want to be part of this tidal wave, you need to get started. Right now.
Financial Services are in Place
Banks have been the natural first movers in mobile financial services – offering a convenient extension of Internet banking (with only slightly diminished functionality) over the mobile web. So, customers were able to use their phones to check their bank account balances, manage credit cards or loans, pay bills, transfer money between accounts, and so on. This level of service has been available in various forms for a number of years.
These banks recognised the opportunity inherent in mobile, but failed to recognise the mobile web as the primary means of Internet access for many users. It took banks and service providers in the developing world, like mPesa in Kenya, to pioneer approaches that initiate and fulfil financial needs without registering first on a PC.
Content Sells on Mobile
Mobile content has been selling well for years. Ringtones and ringback tones, a staple of mobile content, were the trailblazers and have been a major revenue earner for carriers. Downloads of magazine and newspaper content, books, music and movies are a proven and growing market.
The gap between what consumers spend on music and books via mobile and their physical counterparts is closing rapidly according to a recent survey done by Bango Inc.
It’s Time to Sweat the Small Stuff
So, while there is still much room for improvement in mCommerce, the fundamental ingredients are definitely in place, but a number of glitches plague it.
In many areas where the basic services are working, mCommerce suffers from poor marketing, particularly to lower income earners who form the bulk of mobile users. Users are not always aware of the range of services available to them, they are not necessarily curious early-adopters of technology, and the novelty of these new tools and mechanics can cause apprehension. Yet, with the right offer, these challenges can be overcome.
Take, for example, Kenya, which has the most successful and ubiquitous mCommerce system in the world. mPesa is a ‘branchless mobile banking system’ that allows users to pay for shopping or utility bills, wire money to relatives, or simply take a taxi home. Safaricom, the company behind mPesa, also offers interest-paying mobile bank accounts, micro-credit and micro-insurance policies.
Despite all these services in place, 31.97 per cent of Kenyan mobile users in our recent Consumer Lifestyle Survey still requested ‘mobile money transfer services’ as a service that they would like to see offered to them.
It may be an indication of the size of the demand for such services, or the fact that simply by creating awareness of the potential of mobile, mPesa has created more demand.
Whichever it is, it proves the potential of the mobile commerce wave that’s about to break. If only we can get all those little details sorted out, we all stand to thrive.
It Could Start with the Travel Industry
One particular industry that has seen a surge in demand for mobile content is travel. A survey by digital travel content firm Frommer’s Unlimited revealed that 52 per cent of respondents said that they were most likely to access travel information on their mobile devices when travelling compared to 27 per cent in 2010.
The travel industry is leading the way in sharing product info from the planning stage right until the consumer reaches his/her destination. This desire for content will eventually lead to m-commerce services such as booking flights or hotel rooms via mobile. With the proliferation of mobile email and mobile browsing, the growth of multimedia messaging, mobile music, social networking, and even location-based services, mobile is indeed the next wave for travel-related services.
Where To From Here?
So there you have it. Mobile is proving itself to be an effective medium when it comes to branding; and there is a proven, growing consumer demand for mobile commerce services. Recent surveys reveal that 46 per cent of respondents state that they would use their phones for financial services (money transfers, bill payments and loan applications), if these services were available to them. That number is only going to grow.)
It’s time for companies to evolve their strategies, and take advantage of this huge opportunity. Creating awareness is the first step in that process.
(Dr KF Lai is CEO of BuzzCity.)