Mobile strategy for e-commerce merchants

Mobile catalogs versus mobile e-commerce site: what approach is better?

As mobile devices have become ubiquitous, merchants of all sizes are now facing the question of reaching potential customers on mobile devices. First approach, chosen readily by experienced e-commerce merchants was to create a custom mobile application branded to their store and market it through Apple App Store and Google Play. Some time ago, when business or mobile commerce apps were few and far between, it worked - especially for well recognized merchants with a large user base. Pretty soon though the number of such applications grew and users started uninstalling them, especially since most of the first wave of m-Commerce apps were a repetition of company e-commerce site with less functionality, and did not offer enough insensitive to be kept and used by the customers.

From the usability point of few some of these apps were unmitigated disaster, as in a rush to the market several merchants chose to upload their catalogs in pdf format not taking in account any mobile-specific form-factor limitations, nor providing ability to order anything on-line. Soon other negatives came to the forefront. Creating a good-quality, user-friendly custom mobile catalog is an expensive proposition. As more and more mobile catalog-type apps came to market, competition with similar catalogs intensified and it became hard to first get discovered in the application store, and then convince user to download and keep a specific application targeted towards a single retailer.

One obvious advantage of mobile applications though is an ability to communicate to the customers and personalize their experience.

Since each of those applications must to large degree repeat web store functionality, creating mobile e-commerce web site became a competing approach. Mobile web allows faster replication of the e-commerce functionality on the mobile device, requires significantly lower investment from the merchant, and users do not need to download anything - they can access mobile site on as needed basis. Last holiday season (2012), significantly more purchases were made through mobile web sites than mobile applications.

One obvious advantage of mobile applications though is an ability to communicate to the customers and personalize their experience. The question that keeps most retailers awake at night is how to remind customer of their existence unobtrusively, in a manner that will move customer towards purchase and not towards removing retailerís mobile app from their phone or unsubscribing from their newsletter. Through mobile application merchants can send customers notifications on new products, sales, discounts or other relevant news and keep customer engaged. Mobile web site does not offer this option.

Perhaps the most valuable, but currently undervalued feature of Passbook is an ability for a retailer to communicate with the customer in a low profile, not pushy manner.

What can ecommerce merchants who do not have tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars for creating good usable mobile application and marketing it can do keep in touch with their customers on mobile devices? Using Apple Passbook provides one such option. Passbook is an iOS application that allows users to store coupons, tickets, loyalty and other cards, etc. To begin with, Passbook is pre-installed on all iPhones, so retailer doesnít have to worry about distributing the application. Passbook is not only installed on iPhones, itís a very popular app. A lot of people already use it to keep airline tickets, gym membership cards, loyalty cards and coupons to the stores they frequent. As a result, several Android apps popped up that mimic Passbook features and are also popular with the Android users.

Perhaps the most valuable, but currently undervalued feature of Passbook is an ability for a retailer to communicate with the customer in a low profile, not pushy manner. For example, a reminder that you have a certain coupon can automatically pop-up when user is in geographical vicinity of retailerís store. Retailer can also update card information, and notification that the card was updated will pop-up on the userís screen. In other words, Passbook creates a low-key, unobtrusive and inexpensive channel to communicate to your customers in the manner many of the customers already prefer.

You do not need to have an application to distribute you Passbook passes. They can be distributed via e-mail, link on your web site, or user can download your card on his/her smartphone by scanning QR code. There are many services that will allow you to create Apple Passbook cards via the web interface with real time preview. You can also take a look at promoCard - a service specifically oriented towards e-commerce merchants, that allows merchants not only to create, distribute and update Apple Passbook cards, but also target cards to specific user interests.

The good thing about Apple Passbook approach is that it is very inexpensive (the services charge anywhere between $30 and $99 per month), so it is very easy to try and see how it works for you. Good luck!

 
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