Thursday 21st October
So far for The Up Group this year has been busy.. really busy. The seismic shift in attitude from within the entrepreneurial community that came in January have led to a proliferation of senior hires being made this year across the technology space, and work coming at us from all angles; eCommerce, digital media, SaaS, Mobile advertising, location based services and gaming to name a few. With so much demand comes a need to get your head down and spend some time in the shorter term detail of searching. So when law firm Osborne Clarke invited Clare and I to attend an event on mobile posing the question ‘are we nearly their yet?’, it seemed a good opportunity to come up for air and remind myself of the longer term purpose of what all of this work has been about.
The event was a panel discussion at the impressively modern Osborne Clarke offices in the City. The panel was made up of the following industry experts: Mike Reid of Frog Capital, Richard Johnson; Group Strategy Director of mobile payments business Monitise, Alistair Crane; CEO of mobile app business Grapple, and Sienne Veit who, as Social and Mobile Commerce Development Manager at Marks and Spencer, offered the view from an incumbent retailer perspective. Whilst of course we were hearing from a host of mobile advocates, it was extremely interesting (and at times surprising), to get their views on how far we have come in terms of adopting mobile commerce and how far we have yet to go before it is core to consumer businesses.
Sienne talked at length about how much Marks and Spencer are already doing on the mobile web and shared some interesting insights on the way we transact via the mobile vs via the ‘fixed’ web. Apparently we really are creatures of habit and our daily mobile shopping patterns closely mirror what is happening online. We shop all day, but our favourite time is usually during Eastenders. And yes, whilst the average order value on the mobile admittedly is slightly lower, people really do buy sofas on their handsets. Though when you factor in in-store browsing this is perhaps not such a shocker. Sienne fought the mobile web corner and explained that M&S, at this point, have no need of an app. They can far more easily and cost effectively target consumers by staying out of app stores and simply enabling their platform for use across all mobile handsets. Sienne argued that because the M&S customer base is largely female and their findings show most apps are downloaded by men, commercially it makes less sense for them to have a presence in app stores (a point which, as a target female M&S customer with an iPhone and an out of control app addiction, I found hard not to get inappropriately feminist about).
Alistair gave a broader perspective on the metamorphosising business aims in building a mobile presence: ” As the market evolves, the nature of applications will also evolve, becoming increasingly driven by the broader corporate market“. He argued that we are already seeing a shift in the perception of the mobile app from a flippant amusement to a valid business case and a means to really interacting with customers and ultimately, driving sales. He defined this as ‘closing the commerce loop’ and stressed that for an app to give an ROI it needs to take users through a four step process of awareness –> interaction –> enagagement –> sales.
Both Sienne and Alistair were at pains to highlight how important it is for businesses to remember the breadth of the mobile market and demographic relevancy, i.e. It’s not all about the iPhone. Alistair pointedly reminded us that iPhone do not have the majority share, and before businesses get carried away with the idea of building an iPhone app they need to remember who their consumers are and how they engage with the mobile, e.g Blackberry has recently seen a huge surge in sales on the back of the success of BlackBerry Messenger and this has been driven largely by the 16-24 demographic who require and demand afforadable and constant realtime access to their social graph. So, if this is your core demographic then you need to be thinking about the Blackberry too, or more so, when building your application.
Richard took the mobile payments view and gave us some insights on how seriously large financial servies institutions are already taking mobile access for banking. He talked about Monitise being at the ‘start of a revolution’ in terms of how the mass market manage and spend their money, citing their recent success with the Natwest smartphone app as an example of how vital the mobile is becoming as a CRM tool for banks. The app, which launched on O2 earlier this year, allows consumers to safely and securely access and manage their accounts via their handset. So far figures have come back showing users accessing their accounts via their mobiles up to 16 times a month, over twice as much as the figures for online web access, currently at around 6-7 times per month.
Having said all of this, the general view from the panel seemed to be that we still have some way to go before the majority of consumers, not comfortably bouncing around in the bubble of early adoption, feel at ease and safe enough to rely fully on the mobile for shopping and managing their finances. Mike was emphatic that, whilst many of the security issues have been solved, we must remember that most consumers are still instinctively fearful of paying for purchases on the mobile and we still have some way to go before it becomes commonplace.
Nonetheless the overarching message was unsurprisingly optimistic, and was perhaps most succinctly summed up by Alistair, who with the calm omniscience of The Voice in Field of Dreams, declared that ultimately consumers themselves always drive the speed of development and if, here and now, businesses focus on relieving their pain-points and building the best possible user experiences, then when they are ready.. they will come.
I am sure he is right.
Blog post by Gemma Hale, Consultant, The Up Group