Mobile and the dying high street | Mobile Industry | Mobile Entertainment

Mobile and the dying high street

Mobile and the dying high street
Tim Green


Industry / January 17th 2013 at 2:00PM

Lots of m-commerce apps want to help retailers drive customers into shops. What shops? There are no shops...

Over the last few months I've spent a lot of time thinking about mobile commerce. One unfortunate result of this – all too apparent to my despairing wife and children – is that I've become very interested in mobile commerce.

Many's the time I have been chatting to friends about a particular subject – football, music, quantum physics – and inside I've been thinking 'how does this relate to mobile commerce? How can I get the conversation back round to mobile commerce?'.

Friends: "Have you heard that Bowie's got a new album out?"
Me: "Wow, really? I wonder if he's making it available via any online stores that offer a friction-less mobile payment option in addition to more conventional forms of card payment?"

Friends: "Isn't it amazing that elementary particles can behave both like particles and waves?
Me: "Yes it is. Interesting too that quantum theory lies behind many of the authentication systems for online payments, which are, of course, being made more secure by the two factor security offered by the phone."

Friends: "Oh, fuck off Tim."

This week has been something of a landmark for UK retail with the confirmation of the closure/administration of HMV, Jessops and Blockbuster. They follow the similarly lamentable declines of other standbys, such as Game, Comet, Clinton Cards and - saddest of all - the La Senza lingerie group.

I know I speak for many men in admitting I cried a little on hearing the news that giant pictures of Gary Lineker's missus not wearing much would be disappearing from the UK high street.

And, as usual, I thought about the mobile commerce angle on these regrettable news stories/Mrs Lineker's bra.

Now, the obvious one is that mobile has caused many of the retail failures.

E-commerce did for these companies, albeit in different ways. And the arrival of the smartphone and tablet hastened consumers' migration to online shopping (in the case of Comet, Jessops and La Senza) or the digitisation of the products themselves (HMV, Game, Clinton).

But here's the twist. I've met many mobile companies over the last few months who all have the same big idea: use mobile services to drive customers into physical stores.

My nagging question?


Take Google. Its Wallet idea was conceived to close the loop between the firm's online services and bricks and mortar shops. Think about it: Google can manage the ads and search terms that get you to a web site but it can't do much once you have left that site and gone into the real world. With Wallet it can push you offers and promos that get you to spend on the high street.

And at the end of that process it can even process the payment.

The same impulse is driving PayPal, Square, Groupon, LevelUp and (probably) hundreds more.

But they need a high street to work. And in the last few days, commentators have been talking seriously about its disappearance.

Perhaps what these firms are really fighting over is control of people's coffee consumption, since that seems to be the only thing we go to towns and cities for.

Mind you, charity shops are also on the rise. Maybe Google Wallet should ping me every time I pass my local Sue Ryder with "Just in! Some old golf shoes and a jigsaw".

Of course, you've all spotted the irony here. The big OTT companies – PayPal, Google – trying to enhance the physical shopping experience are the same ones that fucked it up.

As Chuck Heston would say: "We finally really did it ... you maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!"

Perhaps, Google et al can salvage something by offering a kind of location-aware app for administrators. Deloitte accountants could get a push notification every time they pass a business that's overly debt-burdened, for example.

Or, conversely, Foursquare could revise its check-in rewards. Rather than 'mayor' users could get the chance to graduate from 'creditor' to 'administrator' to 'grand receiver'.

* Like what ME does? Make sure you sign up to our free daily news headline service by clicking here. You can also follow/like us on Twitter and Facebook.