Would you buy a £4,000 sofa using your mobile phone? Or a car? Or an expensive watch? Some people already are but according to Sarah Evans, O2's head of mobile internet, there's more to shopping on your mobile than you might think.
The first myth about mobile shopping to be shattered is the concept that it's solely about buying stuff on your phone. It's the role the mobile plays in the shopping experience which Evans finds most interesting and where the real opportunities lay, not just for retailers but consumers.
As head of mobile internet and platforms at O2, it's her job to make sure O2 is doing all it can to make its services and stores accessible via mobile devices. This juncture, between understanding what mobile users need from a mobile site, and being in a position to deliver it makes for a pretty exciting job at a time when mobile internet usage is skyrocketing.
Taking the internet for granted
Over the past couple of years Evans has been knee deep in projects and research devoted to mobile usability and gaining an understanding of what other brands are doing well. Well known high street brands such as Marks and Spencer and House of Fraser have recently been upping the mobile internet game. They join the likes of Debenhams when it comes to making simple stuff work well, particularly for mobile users.
When we as users surf the web on our PCs it's easy to take simple stuff for granted, such as sharing a link with a friend. Try and do the same on a mobile device though and the experience is typically very different. Unless it's a mobile-optimised site such as M&S which works hard to make that kind of functionality available, and simple, on its mobile website. When it comes to usability it's the simple things which we take most for granted but when executed well they can make all the difference.
And yet, mobile offers retailers so much more than simple usability wins. With many smartphones now packing GPS smarts (which means the device is constantly aware of where it is), the opportunity for retailers (and coffee houses) skyrockets as Evans explains:
“Retailers get so many context clues from where and when you use your mobile device to visit them. Time of day and location give lots of additional value – for instance, a restaurant could offer a specific breakfast deal to you if it sees you're visiting early in the morning.”
Internet and high street working together
The point that the mobile web can enable businesses on the high street to offer more targeted deals is important. The growth of the mobile web does not necessarily mean traditional shops are dying. In fact, Evans says the two can go hand in hand: “Things like barcode scanners and augmented reality apps can bring the best of online into the real world environment.”
Where online shopping offered a genuine threat to the high street, it's the mobile device which offers the opportunity to bring the high street and internet together as partners rather than competitors. Whether it's through simple location-based voucher advertising or promotions or offering users the ability to get more information about a product through their phone, the mobile internet can help to enhance a shopping experience for both customers and retailers.
Retail's mobile future
Last month at Mobile World Congress we witnessed a shopping demo by the folks at Nokia's Qt. They'd developed an NFC (Near Field Communications) based app which would enable users of an NFC ready device to simply tap a product label and instantly receive more information on a product, including ratings and full description. The app also enabled users to see a map of the store on their mobile device and get directions to the products they were looking for in the store.
Similarly, augmented reality apps allow you to do things like holding up a product in front of your phone’s camera to see additional information, related products or deals. Meanwhile, apps such as Tesco's mobile apps enable you to scan product barcodes to adding them immediately to your shopping list.
Evans underlines these points, highlighting the importance of content when mobile meets high street “providing additional content is key and that’s going to become even more important.” And it pays off too, as Evans explains “we find that people look on their phone and make a purchase there and then. We'll definitely start to see mobile browsing driving transactions offline.”
We're in the very early stages of a new era in retail, both for those selling and those buying. And you know, we're pretty excited about it. Are you?
title image credit: code poet