The increasing availability of smart phones like the iPhone and Droid led to the rise of mobile commerce, a.k.a. “m-commerce”. For many business owners, m-commerce is the new sales frontier and figuring out which mobile strategy makes sense for their business before they invest will mean the difference in succeeding and failing. As the mobile landscape takes form, it will be up to e-tailers to decide how they will explore and conquer it.

The current lay-of-the-mobile-land provides two main options for entering the mobile sales channel, Apps or Mobile Optimized Sites. An app is a native application users may download from a marketplace (Droid and Blackberry) or app store (iPhone and iPad). A mobile site is a version of a website that has been optimized for view on a mobile device. To decide which method works best for your business, you need to invest time in the initial strategic planning.

Developing a mobile channel strategy, like all business strategies, requires a process. In this case there are three steps. Step one, understand the audience. Step two, identify the goal. Step three, deploy the strategy.

Step One – Understand the Audience

It is vitally important that you find out who your customer is and what they are looking for in a mobile experience before you jump into an app or mobile storefront. Like with most new technology, younger audiences are typically the first adopters, so finding out the age of your typical customer will define how you should approach your mobile strategy. Next, find out which mobile device most of your customers are using. This information will be helpful in setting your mobile goal. You can use current site analytics to see how much traffic is coming from which type of device. Check out this screenshot from Google Analytics that shows the breakdown of which mobile devices accessed one eCommerce site:

Using demographics and site analytics can help you answer questions about who your current customer is and when you really understand the end user, you are able to set a realistic goal.

Step Two – Identify the Goal

When you have defined who will be engaging with your mobile app or site, you can identify what it is you want to accomplish in the mobile marketplace. Whether to increase customer satisfaction, grow your brand, drive traffic, or generate mobile sales, your goal is going to determine how you play the mobile game. This step requires you to think about whether or not your products or services lend themselves to shopping, buying, or interacting. For example, a sports team who has an eCommerce site may want to set the goal of growing their brand through communicating stats and news to loyal customers, and not necessarily to actually have them buy a product with their phone. Determining which action you want your end-users to make, along with who those end-users, are will contribute to your strategic plan.

Step Three – Deploy the Strategy

Before deciding on how you enter the mobile market, think about what makes an app different from a mobile site. An app requires a user to search for and then download your custom application. Consider whether or not your business can develop the type of loyal customers or an active community large enough to warrant such a strategy. Also remember that app success does not end at getting the download. You need to be able to provide a rich enough experience to make the app valuable to the customer well past the initial download. Maybe this entails creating an app that allows users to interact with the brand through special promotions, games, or store locators. It is important to realize that a goal for a mobile app should not be to regurgitate your entire online catalog; it should be focused on creating a rich and rewarding experience through valuable features and content. Like the Ralph Lauren app for example, the vivid makeup is almost entirely graphical, displaying the look and feel of the brand at every opportunity. Shopping is clearly not the primary goal here; rather, they want users to interact with the brand and continue to come back for the latest fashion trends. If you decide an app is the right strategy for your business, it is even more important to know which devices your customers use because applications are device-specific, meaning that you may need to invest in the development of separate apps for each kind of device. Again, draw the lines back to who is using it and what you want to accomplish.

If you are considering a mobile optimized site, your goal should be related more toward generating sales, either directly though the mobile device or by driving traffic back to your traditional eCommerce site. If your goal is to generate direct mobile sales, the optimized site will perform better than an app because you have the ability to create a shopping experience that customers are familiar and comfortable with. They will be able to navigate and checkout as if they are using a traditional eCommerce site. Also, you can be sure that users will be able to view the site without having to scroll around or zoom in. It is important to note that you shouldn’t just develop a mobile interface that is identical to your eCommerce store. You still need to tailor it down to who your user is and what action you want them to take. Take 1-800-Flowers for example; they established a mobile presence early on by developing a mobile site that is filtered down and formatted so that gift-buying is the primary call to action. This is a great strategy for generating a mobile sale because a user who searches for flowers using a mobile phone is probably away from their computer and in need of a quick solution. According to Kevin Ranford, VP of Online Marketing, Mobile, and Social Media at 1-800-Flowers, the 100 times growth in mobile sales over last year is just the beginning, “Flower gifting on the go is a perfect use-case for mobile, and we see no reason why the solid positive trend won’t continue.”

Building a mobile optimized store will also help your business show up more in mobile searches and will allow users on all different types of devices to view your site. Whether or not they are accessing the site to research products or to actually buy will have to be addressed when you are setting your mobile goal, that way you can gear the messaging toward driving traffic back to the eCommerce store or toward checking out.

If you take steps to understand what m-commerce really is and how that relates to your specific business, you can develop a strategy that is more likely to convert mobile traffic into dollars for your company.

Source used: Internet Retailer Magazine, December 2010

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