November 1, 2010, 12:00 AM

Early learnings

Speakers at Internet Retailer's first Mobile Commerce Forum leave attendees with tons of take-aways.

Lead Photo

The mobile commerce industry came together in one place for the first time last month at the first annual Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce Forum in Chicago, and the consensus view was clear: M-commerce is here to stay, and retailers, travel companies and ticket sellers not yet on board had better get a strategy together today—or risk losing ground to competitors as an increasing number of shoppers go mobile.

Mobile shoppers are expected to spend $119 billion globally on goods and services in 2015, up from $12 billion in 2009, reported keynote speaker Will Pinnell, director of mobile commerce for Sabre Holdings, parent of online travel company Travelocity. Consumers want to be able to shop via their phones, and that means companies need to develop a mobile strategy now, he said.

"Shopping is shifting," Pinnell said. "Direct mail programs and events aren't working as well as they used to and shoppers are becoming increasingly comfortable purchasing anything on their mobile phone. The next and current generation of shoppers will expect it."

And it's not just shopping via a mobile site or an app, Pinnell said. Most mobile consumers are using their phones for in-store activities such as comparison shopping and getting peer feedback, product information and coupons, Pinnell added.

Pinnell also discussed significant change in the market for smartphones, which are the key driver of greater adoption of m-commerce as the devices enable easier mobile web browsing than previous handsets did and greater features and functions.

"It used to be all about the iPhone, but Google is now shipping 160,000 Android devices daily," Pinnell told attendees. "And the iPad is changing the way we think about mobility, with 10 million devices expected to ship this year."

These developments enable retailers and other companies to leverage new mobile technologies—including identifying where a shopper is in order to provide location-based services, and caching data in a mobile browser, providing mobile web sites with more of the power of apps that can store web site data and present it quickly.

Getting started

The vast majority of merchants in m-commerce use a technology provider to get started with an m-commerce site, mobile app or text messaging program, according to Internet Retailer research. Forum attendees learned that this can be a wise choice for a new and quickly changing market.

After considering several options for its entry into mobile commerce, The Finish Line Inc. chose to work with Unbound Commerce because the vendor could quickly make use of technology the running shoes retailer had deployed on its e-commerce site, director of e-commerce Scott Reasinger told attendees.

Finish Line has solid in-house technology expertise for its e-commerce site and its 700 stores, but it decided that mobile commerce presented novel issues, Reasinger said. A major challenge, he added, was figuring how to leverage its existing technology to support a mobile commerce site. "The mobile platform is very different," he said.

By choosing Unbound Commerce, which offered pre-integrations with its numerous e-commerce systems, the retailer was able to get its mobile site,, up and running in six weeks from the date it signed on with Unbound, Reasinger said.

When it comes to making critical decisions like choosing an in-house or vendor path, someone must take the reins of m-commerce. Today, responsibility typically falls with the director of e-commerce, or sometimes a marketing chief. But a handful of executives are blazing a new trail, with positions dedicated solely to m-commerce.

Tim McCauley, director of mobile commerce at Walgreen Co., leads the merchant's three-pronged mobile effort involving an m-commerce site, mobile apps and text messaging. McCauley says directors of m-commerce must have rich multichannel experience, and in his featured speaker presentation at the Mobile Commerce Forum outlined four rules executives with mobile in their titles should follow to ensure success.

First, he said, it is important that mobile commerce chiefs secure the backing of the senior-most executives at their companies. Second, chiefs must also obtain employee support. Third, mobile commerce leaders must have a clear point of view. And fourth, mobile chiefs must inspire innovation.

"It's a fast-changing market we're in and every week someone somewhere is announcing something different," McCauley said. "You need to make sure to inspire, then test and learn."

Inspiring apps

Great apps can inspire by being both flashy and functional. Three m-commerce experts from consulting firms took the stage at the Mobile Commerce Forum and critiqued apps from across retail to highlight the good and the not so good, and offer lessons merchants could learn.

Of the boatload of apps now available to mobile users, the winners—those that consumers not only download but use—share common features, including convenience, simplicity and contextual relevance, concluded the panel, which included Julie Ask, vice president and research director, Forrester Research Inc.; Tom Nawara, managing director, digital strategy and design, Acquity Group; and Christopher Barcelona, associate director, emerging media, Resource Interactive.

Ask cited the Snap Tell app of Inc., praising the simplicity of the execution that allows consumers to take a photo of a DVD cover with a mobile phone, or to use the phone to scan a bar code on a store shelf, to instantly retrieve price comparisons, reviews and other content about that title. By contrast, the mobile app of luxury brand Gucci missed some opportunities, Ask said, for example by giving the shopper the location of the nearest store but not providing store hours, product inventory status or letting the mobile consumer make a purchase on her phone.

Tom Nawara singled out the mobile app of Best Buy for its extensive functionality, including its display of daily deals, and the ability to add to cart and check out. He also cited convenience features such as an "Idea Gifter" that allows mobile users to quickly filter gift suggestions by recipient type as well as the ability to scan two-dimensional bar codes known as QR codes, enabling shoppers to compare prices between what's on a store's shelves and what's available on the web. By comparison, he noted more limited functionality in J.C. Penney's mobile app, which does not let consumers shop.

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