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GUEST OPINION Retailers should text to get ahead

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Text messaging will be fundamental to the success of the mobile as a consumer engagement channel explains Andrew Dark, CEO, mBlox

Text messaging is widely recognised by both businesses and consumers as a valuable medium for efficient and quick communication. It is, therefore, not surprising that increased growth is once again predicted for text messaging in 2011, driven in large part by businesses which are recognising the benefits of using the service to offer targeted and valuable communications, engaging existing and prospective customers.

With 6.1 trillion texts sent last year, according to International Telecommunications Union, ensuring retails adopt text messaging will be fundamental to the mobile phone’s success as a consumer engagement channel.

Text messaging may not be a new technology but text messaging is seeing the sort of growth most services can only dream of. The success of text messaging is down to its simplicity, ubiquity and usability – three reasons why the retail sector should be looking to exploit the technology for retailers.

The ubiquity of text messaging drives familiarity in its use and this has been adopted, albeit somewhat cautiously, by the retail industry, to provide value-added services to consumers such as special offer alerts and mobile coupons. In recent weeks Juniper Research predicted that 500 million people globally will use mobile phones as travel tickets on transport by 2015. It is clear from looking at the statistics that the value of having continuous access to such utilities is widely acknowledged.

Banks have awoken to the opportunities the mobile channel represents for interacting with their customers and reducing churn through the rollout of attractive and convenient services, however retailers seem to be lagging behind.

So how should retailers structure their approach to mobile? In today’s climate the approach seems to be apps-centric. Designed for smartphones such as the iPhone, BlackBerry and other touch-screen based devices apps have been deployed by a range of high street brands and offer convenience regardless of where users are. The interfaces are fairly intuitive and apps offer a wide range of services for users. In some respects however moving to an apps-based approach to mobile commerce feels a bit like putting the horse before the cart.

While apps are useful and can provide a rich media experience, text messaging should not be overlooked. In fact, text messaging can be used to complement apps in order to keep consumers engaged with upgrades or as phone clutter ultimately diminishes usage of the app. Retailers should be looking both at how text messaging and apps can provide separate value add services but also at how they can be combined for more powerful and compelling services. This hybrid approach looks set to be the next phase of m-commerce as the mobile channel provides both reach and most importantly options for consumers.

Text based services can prove a significant driver for interactivity in mobile commerce, engaging customers with online tools and a host of other self-service options and new products. These benefits can be achieved as a stand-alone offering or coupled with mobile web/downloadable application products.

A text message has been shown to be a very effective payments tool when used as a ‘trigger’ for a mobile payment via a prepaid account or an account transfer. Customers can instantly authorise a payment with a few simple keystrokes on the phone, whenever and wherever they receive the text message.

With increasing concerns about handset security, how can you reassure consumers that any confidential information transmitted over the mobile device is kept for their eyes only?

As mobile technology continues to evolve, innovative solutions for secure two-way communication are being introduced. mBlox recently launched the first truly secure text service powering secure data transmission, that works without handset or network changes, and reassures consumers that their data is adequately protected. Tackling these questions of security will be paramount to the successful deployment of any mobile based solution for confidential information transfer.

Text messaging will continue to evolve with the newest technologies that arise in the market – the emergence of mobile location-aware technologies adds a host of new possibilities for retail and other services.

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