With Roy Rubin’s tweet today, we have one more example of an eCommerce platform working to make mobile commerce (mCommerce) an easy next step for their clients. The list continues to grow and includes platform providers such as ATG, IBM Websphere Commerce, Fry, Marketlive, Demandware, Escalate Retail, hybris, Intershop, and now Magento. In some cases this is being done natively within the application via the mobile web leveraging browser detection and CSS, in some cases through partnerships with third parties, and in some cases through services which enable mobile applications. Many other platform solution providers I have a chance to work with are not far behind, and are working hard on this. (Some of whom I am bound to hear from as soon as I hit “publish” with this post). But a key question is:

What are some key things to look for when evaluating this piece of the commerce solution portfolio?

  1. Cost must be a key consideration. Though growing, the ROI associated with mobile commerce for an eCommerce for multichannel retailer will still be small in the larger context. While strategic, and consumer adoption is increasing rapidly, the volume of direct mobile transactions is likely to be a small contribution. And while there may be an intuitive justification that the mobile commerce capability will benefit the multichannel customer experience, the benefits will be very difficult to measure. The average mobile commerce project has a small budget – often in the US $15-40K range – and that does not buy a lot of unique and custom features. So cost efficiency is critical to launching and supporting a mobile commerce solution.
  2. It is first about the mobile web. Retailers are naturally drawn to the user experience and branding capabilities inherent in development of mobile applications. There are interactions you can build leveraging rich content, GPS, compass, and interactivity that you can’t support over the mobile web today. (That may change as HTML5 matures, but safe to say that is the case still today.) But retailers need to recognize that the prime customer use case for interacting with them over mobile devices will likely always be the mobile web; using the browser on their smartphone to interact with a retailers site. Supporting a site optimized for the mobile site must be the primary mobile commerce consideration today. It is going to be most cost efficient and manageable to support that through your eCommerce platform environment. I am not saying applications are not important; they are just not the most important. A loyal customer may love your application, but is very unlikely to download it while on the way to the mall or store.
  3. Management needs to be very easy and integrated. In part because this is going to be a small contribution, and the fact that most eCommerce teams are already running very lean, the management of the mobile commerce site must be tied into the existing site merchandising and management tools. This is among the most important reasons to consider your platform solution provider versus a specialty mobile commerce firm. Support for content management, category management, product content, site content, and order management needs to be supported through existing web channel tools to be sustainable.
  4. Control to improve and change the mobile site. It may go without saying that the mobile commerce site must contain up to date inventory, price, and promotion data, but it also must contain fresh product data, assortment taxonomy, and brand assets such as web content. This can be one of the prime limitations of an agency approach, in part due to the gatekeeper syndrome of always working through a third party to keep the site up to date. Again, a key opportunity in working with your platform provider. Many agencies and specialty firms are taking advantage of the retailers affiliate or marketplace feeds to power the mobile sites, but this will represent a limitation as these feeds often are a subset of the total assortment and lack catalog management features.
  5. Easy payment solutions. Among the most effective tools for mobile commerce enablement can be integration with an existing quick-order, account, or wallet that enables the consumer to quickly and easily transact using secure and PCI compliant webservices. This is certainly one of the reasons Apple has had so much success via their iPhones/iPod-Touches and it certainly makes it easier to transact for Amazon’s customers using Amazon’s applications on smartphones or via the Kindle. I expect significant innovation in mobile payments in the next year from incumbent players such as PayPal and Amazon as well and new and emerging solutions from the banking and telecom industries. Mobile commerce solution providers and commerce platform providers will be actively integrating these solutions for their clients as they test and learn.
  6. Integrated order management and customer care. If the mobile commerce solution does not integrate to the eCommerce and direct channels’ order management and customer care capabilities costs will increase and customer satisfaction will be significantly impacted. Similarly, enabling a persistent and “portable” cart that allows the consumer to shop via web and mobile (and in the future other interfaces) – while being able to access through the other channel -simplifies the customer experience and can reap huge benefits for the consumer. This also helps you measure the multichannel effect of mobile commerce. This of course requires you use a consistent customer authentication capability.
  7. Phone platform support. The landscape of the phone operating systems continues to change, with new devices, OS versions, and ecosystems developing as we speak. Mobile Commerce providers must help their clients navigate, stay on top of, and manage this pro-actively. For iPhone apps this means stewardship of the approval process with Apple, and with RIM it can mean versioning the solution for multiple devises, and with Android it can mean best practices in security. And for the mobile web, this is about browser support and best practices in site architecture and use of CSS. Retailers need to ensure their platform provider or service provider is positioned to support this over the long haul.

There is of course more to think about than just this list, but hopefully this is a good list to leave you with. For Forrester clients, I encourage you to reach out to myself, Sucharita Mulpuru or Julie Ask for an inquiry on mobile commerce strategy, operations, and technology solutions. If you are a vendor of platforms or mobile commerce solutions and wish to brief us, please request a briefing here.

I look forward to your comments, what should we add to this list?


Thanks, Brian


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