With the steady increase in mobile tech developments in recent years, many small businesses have made mobile commerce, or m-commerce, a priority. Whether it's using a tablet in a brick-and-mortar store or enabling sales through a mobile website, businesses across a wide range of industries are seeking solutions to help them adapt to a mobile-obsessed world.
"With the ever-growing adoption of PayPal, Square and other big players, we are beginning to see mobile commerce alternatives find their way into the hands of small businesses," said Drew Lewis, who runs product marketing and management at mobile point-of-sale solution Leaf.
Marketing experts and business leaders shared their thoughts on the trends currently shaping the m-commerce landscape. [What Consumers Really Want from Mobile Commerce]
Optimized omnichannel experiences
Whether they're opening promotional emails on their smartphones, contacting companies via social media apps or visiting mobile websites, customers expect seamless and easy interactions with brands via mobile devices. A company's ability to optimize the customer experience across all channels will drive its m-commerce success, said James Van Arsdale III, director of user experience for commerce solutions provider WebLinc.
"Having a mobile website to allow customers to shop from their phones isn't solving the root of the problem — it's a Band-Aid," Van Arsdale told Business News Daily. "Customers want the same content, delivered to them on whatever device they want, so they don't have to waste time searching.It's all about tailoring the interface and content to easily allow customers to find what they're looking for."
Among younger demographics, SMS text message alerts convert more sales than emails do, Van Arsdale said. He advised businesses to consider segment-testing their target consumers with different marketing approaches to see when and how those consumers convert.
In-store mobile devices
Many major retail companies, such as Apple and Nordstrom, have introduced dedicated mobile point-of-sale (POS) devices in their stores to make transactions simpler and more convenient for employees and customers. Lewis noted that many of Leaf's small business clients have adopted tablets and smartphones in-store to take orders and ring up purchases.
"Mobile POS is a valuable tool for small businesses, because it increases operational efficiencies and ushers them into the world of the cloud, moving them away from unreliable, paper-only tracking systems," Lewis said. "Mobile POS also provides small businesses with benefits that help improve their bottom line, such as accurate business reporting, improved projections and the ability to accept nearly any type of customer payment — not to mention that they can manage their employees and access sales data using any mobile device."
One component of mobile POS that hasn't seen much growth is mobile wallets, Lewis said. Despite the amount of press coverage this topic receives, mobile wallets don't seem to be catching on as quickly as projected, he said. This could be a "chicken and egg" problem, Lewis added: Mobile wallets need to have a concrete value proposition before small merchants will adopt them, and widespread availability needs to exist before consumers will start using the tools.
Responsive email and website design
A recent survey by email marketing solutions provider Campaigner found that half of consumers have never made a mobile purchase, and less than 30 percent of those who have made such a purchase did so directly from a promotional email. Seamas Egan, Campaigner's manager of revenue operations, said these statistics will shift significantly as mobile design becomes more intuitive and responsive.
"Consumers have been burnt by enterprise's slow adoption to Web 2.0," Egan said. "Many consumers expect to receive non-responsive emails and know that if they want to buy the product [via mobile], they will have to deal with hard-to-read text, difficulty entering their credit card information, etc. So, ultimately, they end up purchasing through their PC for a guaranteed easy process."
Egan cited a Persian restaurant near his home as an example of a business that has taken full advantage of responsive mobile design: A search for "kabob" on a smartphone near the restaurant's location pulls up the business' mobile website, which has a "call" button right on the page. Giving a seamless call-to-action prompt like this on your mobile site and promotional emails will encourage consumers to follow through with a purchase or phone call.
"E-retailers will have to work on changing the perspectives of that 50 percent of consumers who have ingrained expectations that facilitating a purchase on a mobile device is hard," Egan said. "Once expectations have been reset for consumers, mobile commerce will flourish."
Easier mobile app conversions
Many of today's small businesses are eager to build their own branded mobile apps. While these apps aim to drive customer engagement and sales, the costs often outweigh the benefits in terms of conversion rates.
"As the mobile space matures, it's gotten very competitive," said David Zhao, CEO and co-founder of Voxel, a company that creates trial versions of apps for mobile marketers. "The cost [to get customers] to install the apps and acquire them has grown tremendously, and there's no guarantee that these people will actually interact with the app. Companies are less concerned about the performance of the app [because of] the pressure to produce revenue."
In-app conversions were so low because, prior to a year ago, apps didn't support links and couldn't bring users directly to a company's webpage, Zhao said. This is changing as app design becomes more conducive to mobile sales.
"Apps are starting to ensure that content is deep-linked," Zhao said. "From [the in-app] URL, you can get to where you need to go [to complete a purchase]."
If you're considering creating a mobile app, be sure to look for one that makes in-app conversions easy — since all of a consumer's mobile experiences with your brand should be easy.
Greater focus on the core product
Growing small businesses are clamoring to jump on the m-commerce bandwagon in an attempt to keep up with consumers' growing reliance on mobile tech. But the desire to increase your mobile offerings shouldn't trump what matters most — your core business.
"Almost all of our clients are small businesses, and we see the most success in the small businesses that are focused on their core business," said John Jannotti, co-founder of food-delivery app Foodler. "They recognize and participate in some of the [mobile] trends that are changing their businesses, like online ordering, social media marketing and review sites, but their energy is spent, first and foremost, on making great food and providing great service. Then they work with partners they can trust to handle the rest."
Jannotti noted that it's important to realize that mobile commerce is both enormous and irrelevant at the same time. Your business still sells the same thing it always has, but almost all of your customers are going to find you online or via mobile first. So while mobile does matter, it should only serve to enhance, not distract from, your core product.
"In the restaurant business, we think that more than 90 percent of takeout and delivery orders will be submitted online within five years," Jannotti said. "Of those, 30 to 40 percent are already being submitted from a mobile device, and that number is growing monthly. While that sounds like a sea change, it doesn't change what a great pizza shop does, any more than the telephone did. It's true that it would have been foolish to ignore the telephone, but the business stayed the same."
Originally published on Business News Daily