How stores see the mobile web becoming part of the retail experience.
One of the strange things about the original dotcom boom (Web 1.0, if you prefer) was that online shopping was simultaneously its biggest success, and its biggest flop. Startups like Boo.com crashed and burned, as users stuck to the high street when buying clothing. Yet this was also the time that spawned Amazon and eBay.
The lesson was that getting people to buy stuff online was all about what you were selling, how it was presented, and what advantages it had over buying the same products offline. And they’re all lessons that can usefully be applied to the current buzz that’s building around mobile shopping.
ME talked to Duncan Ross from IBM’s WebSphere Commerce Solutions group to find out more. Why? Its technology is used by some of the biggest online retailers, and now it’s branching out into mobile too, as one of the key new features in its WebSphere Commerce V7 platform.
It lets retailers quickly launch a mobile storefront, as well as conducting a certain amount of mobile marketing. Product comparisons, personalised shopping lists and full transactional capabilities are all part of it.
“We’re seeing a lot of mobile activity from our customers, focused around the out-of-store experience,” says Ross, referring to people shopping from their phones when not near the actual physical stores. “But over the next three to four years, there’s going to be a heck of a lot of exploitation of mobile in-store too.”
IBM has already worked with retailers like Sears and 1-800-Flowers in the US on making mobile storefronts, as well as marketing offers targeting their mobile customers.
“For someone like 1-800-Flowers’ head of e-commerce, mobile e-commerce is a bit like the Wild West,” says Ross. “There is experimentation and seams of gold to be found, but the standards and rules haven’t been laid down yet. It’s where e-commerce was back in the late 1990s: the people out there are adventurers!”
IBM is already seeing its customers have success with individual mobile promotions. Borders asked its most loyal customers if they’d like a mobile coupon, and 69% said yes, with a subsequent conversion rate of 20% - double the usual rate for non-mobile deals.
One thing ME is keen to ask Ross is where IBM stands on the apps versus mobile web debate. Should retailers be launching apps for iPhone and other smartphones, or mobile-friendly websites that work across everything?
“The consensus is that people start with an app, but the longer term strategy is to be mobile web,” he says. “We’re driven by our customers to be device-agnostic, and the mobile web avoids you having to be too device-specific. As great as the iPhone is, as a retailer you cannot bet your business on the iPhone alone.”
Mobile is certainly plumbed into the future for IBM’s e-commerce platform, with phase two set to include mobile ‘coupon wallets’, wishlists, 2D barcodes and social features. Meanwhile, phase three will include mobile receipts, and in-store optimisation and proximity services.
“We’re running first-of-a-kind projects, which are often three-way alliances of telco, retailer and IBM,” says Ross. “We believe that we should be working with the leading telcos to work on the in-store experience, with our technology coming out of research.”
However, he is also keen not to get carried away by the notion that people will start shopping on their phones to the exclusion of other kinds of commerce. “Retailers are using mobile pragmatically, and recognising that shopping is a multi-step process,” he says.
“There’s evidence that mobile is one piece of a shopper’s experience, so you can create consumer loyalty without assuming that you have to deliver that total end-to-end shopping experience. Many of us choose to shop in a multi-step multi-channel way.”