A recent research project by PayPal and The Nielsen Company highlighted the rapid growth of mobile commerce in Australia with about $155 million from mobile payments in 2010 alone. Furthermore, customer behaviour is changing. Over six in 10 respondents intend on using their mobile devices for transactions and payments, laying the groundwork for significant growth in the Australian mCommerce industry through 2011.

A main driver of the mCommerce revolution is Gen Y, the most digitally active generation of young adults. Having grown up around computers, the advent of the Internet, mobile phones, video games and more, these Gen Y-ers were born ‘plugged in’ and are quick to adopt new technologies.

Power to the people

Mobile has changed traditional consumer behaviours of brand interaction, pre-purchase research and even the act of buying. Comparison shopping online for the best deals has resulted in price-led purchasing patterns and retailers are now forced to be more transparent. Performing a quick Google search on a mobile device for price comparisons and reviews  while in-store is not only becoming a norm but is also, more often than not, the final push consumers need to make purchasing decisions.

Previously dependant on bricks-and-mortar shops for ‘retail therapy’, they are now increasingly satiating their spending urges through their mobile devices, and are still keen for more. Ownership of Internet-enabled phones rose by 20 per cent last year, currently accounting for about 65 per cent of overall handset ownership in Australia. With such significant uptake and strong growth predictions in the coming months, retailers risk losing out if they don’t enter the mobile market soon.

Doing business with mCommerce

The emergence of mobile shopping is transforming the world of eCommerce, with Australian companies such as comparison engine Lasoo.com.au, which helps shoppers find the best offers across hundreds of vendors, recognising potential in mobile and subsequently developed their own smartphone app and mobile-optimised site for on-the-go consumers. Launched in September 2009, the Lasoo iPhone app has been downloaded by more than 70,000 users and the number continues to rise. Mobile holds abundant opportunities for growth, and businesses in Australia are beginning to rethink their business models and adapt to this digital trend.

And why shouldn’t they? The mobile Web presents new and more personal forms of promotions and marketing, in which retailers can better interact with their consumers. Location-based marketing was borne out of widespread usage of geo-location mobile apps like Foursquare, Yelp and Facebook. More businesses are starting to take advantage of the afore-mentioned apps to draw in new customers and promote store traffic with exclusive mobile-only offers, bridging the gap between the on and offline.

There have been signs of location-based marketing taking off in Australia. Mag Nation, a magazine retailer, offers its Foursquare Mayor a free coffee with every ‘check-in’, while other businesses like hotels and cafes/restaurants provide exclusive discounts and other offers to increase foot traffic. Through location-based marketing, the mobile Web gives businesses the opportunity to extend their local market reach, drive up consumer engagement and cultivate brand loyalty. 

Understanding your customer is a fundamental rule of business that hasn’t changed in the face of technological developments, so consider your target audience groups and how they use their mobile gadgets. People behave differently with different devices. The inconspicuous texting and reading on iPhones and other smartphones have given way to open browsing and joint social interactions with tablet devices. Goals, time availability and attention spans of these mobile Web users can differ greatly; while mobile phone users are more likely to conduct quick Web searches on-the-go, tablet users are just as likely to be on the couch at home, watching TV and tweeting their opinions.

Opportunities in the mobile channel are generated by leveraging on the attitudes and behaviours of the user, so you would do well to look to your customer audience and the types of devices they use to provide some direction for your mobile strategies.

Recently, Reactive developed an iPhone application for iconic wine producer Penfolds. The application allows wine lovers to download Penfold’s best-selling book about cellaring, a definitive wine guide, while in a wine store or restaurant as a reference tool. Penfolds wine lovers can search through each wine and review tasting notes for each year and weather effects. They can also save and share wish-lists and wines in their own iPhone wine collection. This has proved to appeal to wine aficionados as well as those who know little about wine, as they can be immediately informed as they purchase.

Reactive also built the Metro Train service website and a smartphone optimised version of the site. It offers commuters real time travel information, to the minute updates of train line services, planned disruptions, timetables and subscriptions to SMS updates,for commuters on the move.This site has had an extremely high volume of mobile web traffic since the launch, indicative of real time travel information sought by commuters.

Think about your technology

Engaging consumers in the mCommerce space can take many forms such as a native iPhone app, or Android or mobile-optimised Web site. Ideally your mobile products should be accessible across multiple devices and platforms, but in practical terms you can start with only one (and test its success).

There has been increasing debate over ‘Web apps’ (a mobile Web site) versus ‘native apps’ (e.g. an iPhone application), the latter can be more time and cost-consuming to create for multiple mobile platforms.

Web apps allow for greater market reach, as they can usually be accessed from all Web-capable mobile devices. However, there are some restrictions on the user-interface and download speeds are slower.

When it comes to developing effective mobile strategies, one of the key considerations should be on available technologies (operating systems, developer tools, mobile devices, etc) and which would be most suitable for your approach. A good example can be found in HTML5 – also known as a ‘Flash killer’ – which is becoming a significant driver in creating rich user functionality for the mobile Web.

HTML5 enables developers to build apps for multiple devices easily and more efficiently, and Web apps created with HTML5 also offer immediate installation upon directly accessing a URL, thus removing the need for an App Store and reducing the barriers to access.

mCommerce now

With the incorporation of mobile services in the eCommerce arena, shoppers are now able to make purchases anywhere and at any time, armed with the tools needed to make informed buying decisions. Retailers can use these in their favour by adopting seamlessly integrated multi-channel marketing tactics to deliver expectation-beating online shopping experiences and effectively interact with both new and existing customers.

As technology continues to transform the world and foster increasing global networks, it is also moving us towards a reality in which one handy device will serve as a phone, an electronic wallet, a data and music storage device, your social connection to the `world, and much more.

The much vaunted ‘Year of Mobile’ is upon us, are you ready for it?