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Businesses have to avoid making same mistakes with mobile as they did with the nascent web, warns roundtable

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Businesses rushing headlong into m-commerce without considering sensible long term investment are risking a severe blow to revenues when their lax systems fail.

So warned a panel of six m-commerce experts taking part in a UKFast roundtable in Manchester last week. While consumers are quickly becoming more trusting of the mobile web, those firms who fail to invest in a secure infrastructure now risk costly downtime and damage to their reputation in the future as m-commerce becomes a significant channel to market.

Paul Harris, marketing director at UKFast issued this warning to businesses: "I think the trust that consumers have in m-commerce now is, unfortunately, misplaced. There is still a fear of mobile web and the infrastructure and the security is very low on the agenda for most IT directors.

"Businesses need to invest for the future, understand that the mobile web is going to be a significant channel and invest in it. There is a danger that businesses will make the same mistakes as they did with the web before they realised how significant their internet presence was going to be. Just bolting on a makeshift mobile site is guaranteed to cause a company problems in the future."

And it's not only SMEs that should be concerned. Many big brands have launched their mobile presence with the platform still in its infancy. The infrastructure of those mobile sites will be tested with the growth of the m-commerce arena and any failings in security or stability could damage even the biggest of brands.

Savvy firms will recognise the significance of m-commerce in the future and commit now to making their mobile sites as stable and secure as their existing websites.

Adding to the challenge businesses have in securing the site itself is the primitive security of the mobile devices themselves. Every new smartphone is tested aggressively by hackers with some taking less than 24 hours before vulnerabilities have been found and exploited.

Matthew Ryan, chief technical director of Web Comms, an iPhone applications development and training company, added: "At the moment, consumers don't see the potential faults of mobile websites in terms of security. They don’t think it matters because they have all of the guarantees they need with credit card companies etc."

Paul Reilly from MyDestinationInfo suggested consumers are concerned not with the platform or device but with the brand. He said: "If you trust Marks & Spencer, you trust them regardless of the platform. The online gambling arena shows that perfectly. The amount of money that changes hands is phenomenal and those players are quite prepared to go onto their mobile device and play casino games with the same budgets as they would on the web. It's the brand they trust – it might be a High Street bookies with a casino offering. If people are prepared to play against a random number generator and trust it with that money on a mobile device, they will be prepared to book holidays or buy insurance on there"

Those who are leading the drive towards m-commerce have a duty to prepare their mobiles sites in a responsible way. Panellists offered their advice to businesses considering developing a mobile presence or an app.

Deri Jones, CEO of SciVisum said: "There are lots of ideas coming down from marketing tree about how to develop an app. Before implementing anything that could damage the brand and lose sales, it's important to test throughout the process. Test marketing ideas, get the statistics to prove they work, and, most importantly, make sure your users want that new feature. Once your guys have written the code, test it and test it again. Test before, after and during because there’s nothing worse than having a nice new shiny app that lets users down."

Ryan added: "When considering a mobile app, businesses need to consider what it will add to their business. Do they want to attract younger users who are more savvy on mobile devices. They also need to think about how they will market it. There are more than 300,000 apps now available on the iPhone or android so be aware of how difficult it is to market.

Business should also consider how they will distribute an app. Reilly continued: "You need to have a plan to get the app distributed as widely as possible and not just assume that the brand will carry it alone. There are very few apps that do have a particularly wide adoption so how will you make sure yours is one of them?"

Top Tips For Developing a Mobile Presence:

• Focus on making your app interesting – it should add value and shouldn’t be a bit of your normal website broken off and put on the mobile.

• Remember there's scope to damage a brand and lose sales if you don’t invest in the infrastructure

• Invest in the technology – it will be a significant revenue channel in the long term so it’s worthwhile.

• Consider the user at all times – they're time poor, on the move and operating on a small screen.
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