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Mobile Commerce – Context is Everything

2012 April 6
by David Eads
Mobile Returns Personal Service to Retailing

Mobile Returns Personal Service to Retailing - or Lets Them Leave for the Competition

Lately I’m seeing increased conversation around context-aware computing and responsive design.

I think responsive design in particular is gaining momentum on the coattails of the HTML5 revolution. Both are critical to success, but frankly, aren’t really new.

The key to mobile is, well, mobility. With mobile, the context is always changing.

Users walk (or drive) around with smartphones and very often are looking for local content and responding to interactions in the physical world. The classic example is a shopper in a retail store looking up product reviews and doing a competitive price check while standing in the aisle.

Whether the retailer believes in mobile commerce or not, mobile commerce is affecting their brick-and-mortar same store sales. The context is what makes mobile computing and mobile commerce different than traditional online ecommerce.

From a technology perspective, a mobile commerce app might not be much different than the online offering – in fact, for many of the cheapest retailers, the mobile commerce offering is EXACTLY the same offering as online, but with some mobile lipstick applied – metaphorically speaking.

To the shopper, mobile commerce is a completely different experience. The context is different. The shopper is in the store instead of at her computer. She’s looking at all the different products and can ask store associates for help. She’s seeing all the signage and displays. She can pay using all the store payment infrastructure. All of the supporting logistics to make the in-store experience happen are all affecting her opinions. But she also has her phone or tablet with her and she can break out of the store-controlled box and see everything that’s available on the Internet.

Therefore, retailers must structure their mobile offerings to understand the user context and operate in an omni-channel, holistic way. Mobile applications should be responsive and adapt to the form factor, preferences, and the current way users are interacting with the brand. Mobile applications should also be highly personalized, enabling shoppers to easily convert into purchasers at the so-called Zero Moment of Truth. Mobile applications should also blend with the other retailing efforts to transform the shopping experience.

When I was growing up, my Dad was a merchant in a small-town department store. I used to ride my bike there after school and help straighten things, clean up, and help customers. Back then he and his associates knew every single customer and were there to answer questions the second they needed anything. They were able to sell more because of personal service and deep knowledge of the customers, their preferences, and their lifestyles. When someone was on the fence, they could be persuasive and guide the customer to make a decision that was best for both the client and the merchant.

Mobile gives this ability back to us on a massive global scale.

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