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The world is my shopping mall

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Today is the 150th anniversary of the founding of Nokia. No, you aren’t mistaken, there haven’t been mobile phones in Finland since 1865, the company started off making wellington boots, but as you know their claim to real fame was pioneering the mobile industry. Remember when everyone had a Nokia phone? Happy days for Nokia, but it wasn’t to last.

While these days the company is now betting the ranch – or rather the sauna – on infrastructure equipment to power the Internet of Things, Nokia’s fall from dominance in the mobile phone market is really interesting as it offers some parallels for how retailers do (and indeed don’t) adapt to the smartphone/m-commerce world.

The main lesson we can all learn from Nokia is never think that anything lasts for ever. Nokia appeared through the 1990s and early 2000s to be unassailable in the mobile phone market. Its proto-smartphones (remember the N95?) got every more complex and promised ever more. However, they were hard to use, didn’t work very well and were mainly just a rehash of existing tech.

Then Apple came along and offered consumers – the phone users – something simple and easy to use and, boom, overnight Nokia was blown out of the water.

What does this teach us? Consumers and their needs really matter. Until the iPhone came along, no one knew they needed a smartphone or that accessing the web on a mobile was that important. As soon as you did, you knew it was the future and your nokia hit the bin. Well mine did.

Today retailers are in a similar position to that which Nokia found itself in in 2007. Suddenly consumers now know what they want to do with their phones around the retail environment and are not going to accept anything less. Don’t offer them what they are used to with other brands and retailers and you join that scuffed N95 in the bin. And we don’t all have wellington boots to fall back on.

With this in mind it is interesting to see intu investing in state of the art 4G for 10 of its shopping malls to ‘augment’ wifi. As anyone who uses 4G will know it is way better than public access wifi and this is a brave move by intu. It will offer consumers in all the shops great internet access – the one main thing that pushes retailers towards doing a Nokia.

It shows some real forward thinking by intu, which knows that having great connectivity everywhere in its centres means people don’t leave. It also means that shops get to do more and more with mobile, again making the shopping centre a place to stay. For hours. Oh joy.

Rail operators should also take note. A quarter of rail commuters are shopping on smartphones while they travel and as a regular commuter, decent on-train connectivity would be a real bonus and make the daily grind much more productive and worth the enormous fare.

In fact this move towards networking everywhere is vital to the whole of m-commerce and the internet of things. It is pretty plain that, in getting out of handsets and back into networking tech, Nokia is likely to be around for another 150 years at least. This the vital part of the equation.

A third of online purchases in 2015 will be made through mobile – much of this will be in stores, on trains, in cafes and generally all over the place. The world is my shopping mall. I just need to get online.

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