April 25, 2012, 4:15 PM

My argument for laziness in mobile commerce

Make apps and sites easy to use. Really easy.

Mobile commerce, above all else, is about making it simple for consumers to use their smartphones to interact with a business. Not all m-commerce sites and apps are as simple to use as others.

For example, Walgreen Co.’s smartphone app includes an option that enables consumers simply to refill their prescriptions with a scan of the bar code on the bottle.

How popular is this option? In August, Walgreens said 25% of its online prescription refills were made via mobile scanning. Today, the figure is 40%. Walgreens isn’t alone in offering this refill option. CVS/Caremark Corp. and Shopko Stores Operating Co. are two other pharmacy retailers that do, too.

To its credit, Walgreens makes the feature easy to find. Front and center on the app’s home page is the Refill By Scan button. A tap of it opens a bar code scanner that asks the consumer to line up the bar code on the pill bottle with the arrows on the screen. Once lined up properly, the app grabs the code and sends it to Walgreens. Afterwards, the consumer receives a notification the refill has been submitted.

It’s easier than calling in a refill and more convenient than ordering a refill via Walgreens’ e-commerce site. With pill bottle in one hand and a smartphone in the other, the consumer knows exactly which medicine is running low without having to think about the medical names of the pills provided in a list on a computer screen.

Sure, it may seem just as easy for the consumer to sit down in front of a desktop PC, log into his Walgreens’ account and order refills there. But, humans are lazy. Much as water tends to seek its own level, humans tend to seek the easiest way to accomplish something. If an app can save me the process of walking into the home office, logging into an account and remembering to bring the pill bottles with me, it’s going to be noticed.

Retailers also may note that performance must accompany simplicity. Once, I scanned a bar code in a store to sign up for its loyalty program, only to view the full desktop version of the enrollment page on my smartphone screen. Immediately, I abandoned the site. The retailer’s mobile commerce plan performed, just not well. No one took the next step of viewing the loyalty enrollment page on a smartphone.

If I were developing a mobile commerce site or app, my goal would be to make it perform well but be so simple to use that a consumer might think he is being lazy by using it.

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