Comment: Putting mCommerce into perspective

Recent research from the Internet Advertising Bureau suggests that three-quarters of top spending UK retailers have a mobile-optimised website but only 8% have a tablet-optimised site. Surprisingly 23% of the top 150 retailers still don't even have a transactional website. One in five of the top 50 retailers offer a 'single approach' where a user's account works across desktop and mobile app. There is a large range of engagement approaches to mCommerce and a varying level of attention paid to the range of different types and sizes of devices supported. 

Over 50% of the adult population now have a smartphone or tablet and over half of these are using these devices to access retailers' websites. You would be forgiven for believing that if you have anything to do with retail, but don't have a mCommerce strategy in place, then the future is bleak. Given the constant bombardment with facts and figures about the strategic importance of having a unified mCommerce presence why is it that so many retailers aren't rapidly jumping on the mCommerce bandwagon?

Could it be that retailers are dragging their feet on deployment of mobile apps or transactional mobile websites because the pace of change in mCommerce is just too much to keep up with, even for the major spenders? Or maybe the mCommerce situation is just blown out of all proportion?

Alternatively, maybe mCommerce doesn't deliver a big enough return for the time, attention and investment required to take priority over other strategic IT spend.

There is a massive focus on mCommerce and I don't diminish its importance. However you have to get it in perspective. The amount of hype and press coverage seems to be out of kilter with the size of the issue. The majority of adverts you see spin the representation of the web sales position. I saw one last week that read 'By 2015, more shopping is expected to take place using mobile devices than laptops or desktops'. So what? To some extent web shopping is web shopping. Mobile devices will make it easier and more pervasive on the move but the largest percentage of shopping, by far, will for the medium term continue to happen in stores. Today, even after years of triple digit percentage web shopping growth, over 85% of all retail transactions happen in a good old-fashioned bricks and mortar store!

For me the problem is the area of focus. Perceived wisdom is that mCommerce is all about the use of consumer smartphones and tablets to drive better engagement with the store environment. The market feels to be very well served with an enormous selection of mobile apps and a plethora of payment methods, although the statistics above suggest even that is not actually the case. The vast majority of retail transactions still happen within the store, so for me the real question is why has the use of in-store mobile technology fallen so far behind? That's where retailers have been even slower to join the party and that's where the biggest short-term prize lies.

Many retailers are driving web shoppers into their store to collect online orders. The consumer side of the channel puts a lot of emphasis on ensuring a simple, effective customer experience. Often the merging of these channels at the collection end of the transaction highlights a stark contrast between the levels of attention paid to the customer experience. For mobile to be really effective it must enhance and unify the customer experience and make your brand a destination that makes shopping enjoyable with a common look and feel across all channels. The deployment of in-store mobility will make the transition between mCommerce and in-store mobility a simpler and potentially more seamless one.

It feels to me as if the whole mCommerce situation is not going as well as it could because there is too much confusion, too much choice and too much focus on the web side of the omnichannel experience. Pundits and retailers alike preach on the importance of a unified, enhanced customer experience, yet the implementation of user journeys across different channels doesn't live up to the sermon.

mCommerce and in-store mobility will absolutely drive the next level of development in consumer-driven retailing. More attention needs to be paid in ensuring that consumers get a consistent, common, high quality experience whether it takes place in an individual channel or transforms across various channels.

Mobility is still relatively in its infancy but the next two to 18 months are likely to see a rapid maturity in this emerging, diverse technology. More investment and drive needs to be applied to in-store mobility and the fusion of the consumer and store channels to ensure that customers get an enhanced, unified experience.

Those retailers that don't adopt this strategy are likely to be left behind.

Paul Mason Consulting's Huw Thomas will be writing a regular mCommerce column for Essential Retail over the coming months.