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GUEST OPINION Six steps to mobile retail heaven

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You all know by now that you need to have a mobile presence to grow your business, but how do you actually achieve it? Well, Brenna Johnson, Product Marketing, eBusiness at Endeca Technologies offers you a simple six step guide

If you're an online retailer without mobile commerce capabilities, you're missing out on sales. Smartphones have dramatically changed the commerce landscape. Beyond a retail research tool, mobile commerce has evolved from a lightly used, nice-to-have option for early adopters into a profit centre for organisations early to the game. Millions of users are now engaging with retailers via mobile devices, and doing so more frequently – with daily mobile web access doubling every six months. In fact, according to “The State of Mobile Apps,” The Nielsen Company, traffic to mobile commerce sites and applications increased 50% in the first half of 2010.

Having a mobile presence will soon be just as critical as having an online presence. However, many businesses have had a panicked approach to mobile – rushing into it without realising that success hinges on the right technology. Selecting the best technology approach for your mobile goals will be critical to driving cross-channel activity, your user experience and, ultimately, the profitability of your mobile initiative. Many firms quick to market with haphazard solutions have scrapped their initial mobile offerings and replaced them – learning lessons they couldn't anticipate.

In order to avoid this same fate, how should you start focusing your company's mobile initiative? The most critical decision you will make is selecting technology that will support your strategy.

Step 1: Start with a clear strategy To avoid pitfalls, define the mobile goals of your organisation to guide budget, internal support, and development timelines. Is your goal to initially provide shoppers with a research tool to assist them through the buying process? Is the goal to boost customer loyalty? Add a channel to capture more sales? Are you targeting sophisticated smartphone power-users, or looking to provide a one-size-fits-all solution to reach a broader audience?

There is no right answer and there is no one solution. Instead of bending your goals based on what's available today, build a mobile strategy around what's right for your business in the long term. Regardless of your specific objectives, define how mobile will play into your multichannel strategy, and how it will ultimately improve your customer experience.

Step 2: Select the right mobile environment(s) Once you have your goals defined, understand where and how your target audience is already interacting with the mobile channel. There are two mobile environment options to choose from: sites and applications. Both have benefits, so align support based on the goals of your strategy and what your audience is likely to use.

Should you develop a mobile website or a mobile application? We know that the number of online retail mobile applications accessed has increased 91% in the last year, and mobile web use for the same purpose has increased 47%, according to “Making The Case For The Mobile Internet,” Julie Ask and Seth Fowler, Forrester Research, July 2010. Both mobile sites and applications will likely be valuable to your long-term mobile strategy, and you may choose to invest in both environments to ensure proper coverage.

Step 3: Prioritise what devices to support Once you've selected the environment(s) to develop, focus on which mobile device(s) to support. You should start by researching which platforms your target audience uses, and reconcile that with the behaviours of the larger consumer landscape for the greatest impact. For instance, if your main demographic is 18-24 year old males, you will want to focus on the Android and iPhone, as opposed to the Blackberry device, which is more popular among Web-browsing business professionals. It's no surprise that iPhone users engage with the mobile channel the most. Android-based phones are a close second, trailed by Symbian, RIM Blackberry and Windows Mobile OS-based devices, according to AdMob Mobile Metrics Highlights.

The mobile device landscape is fragmented. Because user adoption rates and the speed at which devices and capabilities change, platform-specific user engagement will fluctuate. You should consider whether your mobile commerce platform is flexible enough to support these fluctuations as needs evolve. Will it be able to easily support more devices? Be sure the technology approach you take will be able to scale to future needs.

To ensure the greatest adoption rate possible, do your research and carefully examine where and how your target market is engaging. If your budget does not permit building out a series of device-specific apps, choose one or two of the best-fit device environments to support, and enable other users to access your mobile storefront via a mobile website.

Step 4: Decide whether to own or outsource mobile technology Technology will be the backbone of your mobile initiative. There are many options for building a mobile offering ranging from fully outsourced, to service-driven solutions, to homegrown technologies built and managed internally.

Many organisations struggle with the technology decision. Will a low-cost, outsourced solution be able to support long-term growth? Will investing in a robust infrastructure cost too much upfront? Available-to-hire mobile skill sets are scarce, which is why the vast majority of organisations have engaged a provider. Take the time to understand the trade-offs to the different deployment options available on the market. While outsourcing may defray much of the cost and resource investments upfront—allowing you to test the mobile environment with less risk—it may not meet your needs over time. As you start to understand your mobile market, demand grows and you seek to have more control over the technology.

Step 5: Discover what existing technology you can repurpose In most cases, you should not have to make large investments in new technologies to support mobile expansion. If you have a website, your core technologies (e-commerce platform, merchandising tools, CMS, user reviews, product information) should and can be leveraged in the mobile channel.

Regardless of your specific strategy or approach, extend as much of your existing technology into the mobile channel to maximise your investments and simplify management. If you find the need to stray from your existing e-commerce systems for pieces of your mobile site, you should still strive to incorporate the tools used to manage your website user experience. Your mobile storefront should be as actively analysed and managed by your internal business users as your dot-com website. Integrating these tools into your mobile offering will not only maximise the value of your existing technology investments, but will also ensure greater consistency with the user experience and branding efforts across all your channels.

Step 6: Align your technology with short-term and long-term goals Maximise your budget and get projects moving by aligning the development of mobile services with your strategy, and stage build-out accordingly. Chances are you won't have the budget or resources to build-out your entire mobile program upfront, and you'll need quick results to secure additional funds and support in the future. Make sure you're selecting the right technology to support your specific mobile goals and long-term strategy.

If your goal is driving mobile sales, incorporating confidence-building user reviews or investing in a streamlined checkout process will prove more fruitful than barcode scanning. Rate what's most important to your strategy, adjust build-outs accordingly, and iterate based on how your customers are interacting. Keep reevaluating, and revisit your roadmap every quarter.
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