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Why all brands require an easy mobile e-commerce experience for their customers.

This morning I came across a blog post TCPF, WTF? by Leah Kennedy, a University of Oregon student who is currently taking the Technology Production class led by my great friend David Ewald of Uncorked. The acronym TCPF is from a book, Users, Not Customers: Who Really Determines the Success of Your Business, written by Aaron Shapiro, CEO of Huge, and stands for Trust, Convenience, Price and Fun. [BTW, Huge is the company behind the wonderful HBO Go iPad app that I use constantly.] Here's an excerpt from the book's introduction:

My wife loves seltzer water. I can't stand it, but she will hardly drink water if bubbles aren't in it. So I thought it would be great to buy her a soda maker. One afternoon, I passed by a Williams-Sonoma store and decided to stop in. Lo and behold, they had one sitting on a shelf: a SodaStream Genesis drinks maker for $150. But it seemed expensive. I could buy her a pantry full of 150 bottles of premade seltzer for that price. So I decided to shop around.

I opened the RedLaser app on my iPhone and used it to scan the machine's bar code to find out what other retailers charged. Bed Bath & Beyond carried the same thing for $100. Success! $50 in savings. I waved down a sales clerk and showed her my findings. But she declined to match the price.

So right there, in the middle of a beautiful Williams-Sonoma store in a high-rent location on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I bought the SodaStream drinks maker - from Bed, Bath & Beyond by using my mobile browser.

Companies such as Williams-Sonoma are in for a rude awakening. One day everyone will shop this way, and companies will either change their ways or be out of business.

What Shapiro reminds us here is that a brand's customers are the competition. Not other agencies, not other brands and their products - customers.

And as he says further along in the introduction, when clients of Huge come asking for a new website or a mobile app, they are really asking for help with digital transformation: "They need to renew their company to fully compete in this new economy." NB: Fully compete.

Let's back up a little. At Mary Meeker's Web 2.0 talk late last year her presentation included some stunning statistics on the takeoff of Mobile e-Commerce. Now that mobile devices create more Internet-access traffic than PC's, it is absolutely critical that all brands have a mobilized website and that their customers can easily buy products across all mobile devices. As these devices are always on there is also opportunity for Push messaging alerts using geo-location, [hello, Urban Airship,] where brands could reach prospective customers who might be in range of one of their stores. And once again Apple had a stellar sales jump over the Holidays with another 15 million iPads sold. This brings the total of all iPad sales to roughly 73 million. Meanwhile it was just announced that Apple is now the biggest maker of "computers." And BTW, Meeker's presentation title was: Mega-Trend of the 21st Century - the empowerment of people by mobile devices. Does your company have a mobile e-commerce solution?

Back to Leah's post:

A decade ago no one could have predicted the iPhone or even a tenth of the applications it features. Two decades ago no one predicted how important or popular the Internet would become. A generation ago no one dreamed of ever owning their own computer. That was all the stuff of dreams, the stuff scientists talked about, the stuff that was on the Jetsons. Yet now, if a company does not have a strong digital presence it is lost. If a brand cannot connect with their audience across every available medium, even if the new one just rolled out a week ago, they become antiquated. [Insert panicked scream here]

She's right although I might quibble with her contention that no one predicted how important the Internet would be, but I get her drift. You should read her post, especially as she describes her own experience with airlines and clothing stores. And remember, young women and men like Leah don't need to learn how to make a purchase on a mobile device; since kindergarten they have been steeped in the web and technology and have applied it, perhaps subconsciously, in their information processing, conceptual resourcing and in their expanding perceptions. Being born digital has vastly improved their cognitive psychology compared to an adult's point of view.

And talking of students.. my current Digital Brand Strategy class at the University of Oregon doubled in size for Winter 2012, which has me leading presentations and lectures in front of 38 very bright minds every week. I spend 3 hours of class attempting to not dumb them down. Last Thursday we spent the whole time considering mobile apps. I tasked the class, by having them break into teams of 6 or 7, to consider what the attributes of an app for one of North's outdoor clients would be. The only prompt from me was asking them to consider these questions - Who, What, Why, When, Where? - beyond that they were on their own.

And then the questions came back at me. The biggest one: Should this be a brand app or a brand product app? My answer: Deliberately evasive.

They stopped worrying about that and concentrated on how they personally use apps. Here's a synopsis, in their own words, of what they would like in an app. And this could be for any outdoor client of course:

Adventure planner: the adventure planner helps outdoor-minded people plan their outdoor adventures. the user types in an activity and based on location and weather info, the app plots a route, and shops for the best deals for the given activity (ex. "snowboarding"- will show nearby resorts, ticket prices, lodging, and the quickest route to get there). Based on weather, the app sends out push notifications, so if it's raining, it will tell you that today isn't a good day to snowboard, but will make other recommendations in the user's locale based on popularity and past preferences and give the user the option of planning an alternate trip.

User recommendations and ratings
local recommendations and tips
sharing with facebook push options
Coupon on the phone for "checking in"

Regardless of the gap between wants and needs in an app and any development issues around them, two big issues came up quickly and decisively - the app should be simple to use and definitely should not task a device's processing capacity or drain its battery. And another, you should be able to easily purchase a brand's product from within the app. Those insights from the students came without any input from me.

The students have been using mobile devices for long enough to know about the benefits and pitfalls of apps and they've also been purchasing through mobile too. In other words, unlike the clients that Huge helps out, those young people do not require digital transformation, especially in mobile - it's all they know.

They have no other history.

And then, a postscript

[Update: 12:00PM] This is from the information that Facebook filed for its IPO filing:

“We do not currently directly generate any meaningful revenue from the use of Facebook mobile products, and our ability to do so successfully is unproven,” the company said in its review of the risks it faces.

And more from the same article:

In a world that is rapidly moving toward an era of mobile computing, this is a troubling issue for Silicon Valley’s brightest star — particularly since much of Facebook’s growth right now is in countries like Chile, Turkey, Venezuela and Brazil, where people largely have access to the Internet using cellphones.

Facebook is not the only company struggling to translate the success of its Web site to mobile devices, where screen space is at a premium and people have little patience for clutter or slow loading times. It is a problem that plagues companies as diverse as news publishers and the streaming radio service Pandora, and it is likely to loom larger. There were more global shipments of smartphones than of personal computers in 2011, according to a recent report from Canalys, a research firm.

Think mobile.

More thoughts on brands and mobile e-commerce

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