Mobile E-Commerce: Not Just For The Big Boys Anymore

My first real experience with e-commerce was back in 1999, when I was part of the team that launched one of the first online retail luxury websites.  Back then, people thought we were crazy. When we approached some of the leading luxury brands in the world, their typical initial reactions included:

  • “People aren’t going to buy online. They prefer the experience of shopping in a store.”
  • “It’s not safe to give your credit card number online. You are going to get ripped off.”
  • “Maybe people will buy CDs or books online, but they are not going to buy anything expensive.”
  • “It is too expensive to build and maintain a quality e-commerce website.”

Many of these retailers made the decision that the internet was not for them. They saw online shopping as a fad that would never take off. They also believed that being on the internet would damage or cheapen their brands.

We all know how this story ends.

Online sales went from $27.5 billion in 2000 to $143.4 billion in 2009. While retail sales have declined during the current economic downturn, e-commerce continues to enjoy double-digit growth.

Companies that hesitated to engage in e-commerce quickly found themselves at a heavy competitive disadvantage. Today, virtually every major brand is online and online sales account for a substantial percentage of all retail sales.

Deja Vu all Over Again

Flash forward to 2010 and I’m hearing all of the same arguments again. This time, though, the subject is mobile e-commerce.

What is mobile e-commerce?
Mobile e-commerce is e-commerce conducted on a mobile device like a smart phone, iPhone or iPad. This is done through an app (short for application) that device owners can download to their mobile device. Once the app is downloaded, users have the power to use the mobile device to make purchases from virtually anywhere.

Skepticism

While this sounds like a great innovation, many retailers remain skeptical and have thus far chosen not get into mobile e-commerce. The most common worries companies have about branching out into mobile e-commerce are:

  • Scale: How difficult is it to build and manage multiple device-specific apps (applications)?
  • Submission and support: How difficult is it to get Apple or other providers to approve the store’s app and to modify that app?
  • Cost: How expensive is it to build, integrate and maintain the e-commerce app?

They also fear that customers won’t be comfortable using their mobile devices to make purchases and that the mobile storefront won’t be as easy to use as the company’s traditional website.

The Good News

The good news is that a number of companies are developing software platforms that will make the process of developing, launching and maintaining mobile e-commerce apps both relatively simple and remarkably cost efficient.

Recently, Magento had the public launch of their mobile e-commerce platform, Magento Mobile.

This platform, which has been drawing raves from beta testers, includes a number of e-commerce tools, including:

  • Full integration with a store’s catalogue
  • Checkout
  • Inventory
  • Reporting
  • Manage multiple devices


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