Making it with mobile commerce

Don’t you love it when folks try to drive excitement up on something they don’t really understand? The latest faux boom I am being annoyed by is the mobile ecommerce market, something the self proclaimed knowledge leaders are calling m-commerce.

Here’s some “facts” that are true, smartphones are forecast to have a 27% penetration in the U.S. population by 2010. That’s over 35% of the cellphone market. 3G & 4G network consumption is expected to double in the next 18 months. That’s great news for the telcos but does that translate into an opportunity for the online merchant?

While it’s true that people are making huge strides in refining mobile video and other content delivery streams for the current platforms it seems that m-commerce is struggling to find its way. The majority of pundits are predicting a huge market for this kind of retail channel but it has to be said that we may be expecting too much too early. There is a chronic fragmentation in platforms still and this has to hurt. Building applications aimed at the native platform (as in the iPhone app store) just isn’t viable right now. Who do you target? Nokia at 38%? RIM at 16%? iPhone at 10%? Building for everybody just increases the cost of the MVP as well as the complexity of your effort. I have seen some people trying to get this method to grow, pizza ordering applications, cinema tickets etc. But I don’t think that dog’s going to hunt. Check to learn more about

The other option, building for the mobile web, is probably the only viable strategy right now but it has its own challenges. The primary struggle with aiming for the mobile browser is the huge variance in the capabilities of the provided browser. There is such a variance in standards adherence (there are none) that strategies that we have relied on in the recent Web 2.0 universe may not be our allies here. Heavy weight pages requiring relatively large scale javascript libraries are going to provide a less than optimal experience for the shopper as well as a quick consumer of some generally miserable data caps.

What I have seen so far has been pretty miserable. So many merchants who don’t get it at all, mobile experiences that rely on native scaling technologies in the browser or providing a checkout form that takes hundreds of key presses to get to the “charge me” button. If you are currently considering the mobile web as a sales channel you may wish to consider the following, AVS needs to be turned off. What is the smallest dataset I need to complete the transaction? Your store needs to be simplified to a massive degree. Your customers are not going to navigate their way through masses of sales copy, they won’t scroll endlessly, your products need to be found easily on the site and you need the checkout to be as slim as possible. The alternative is that you will just get a catastrophic abandonment rate and zero conversions.

M-commerce is not e-commerce on a small screen. It’s mobile, fast, shaved down to the minimum. It’s about convenience being king. If the solution provider or the merchant doesn’t focus on the customers needs above their own there is going to be a problem.