William Hill bets on mobile for gambling on the go

High street bookmaker William Hill tells Computer Weekly how mobile technology has changed the company and attracted new customers

High street traders have struggled through tough times during the economic crisis, but in towns and cities across the country the betting shop has remained a staple presence.

William Hill holds the title of the largest betting operator in the UK, with more than 2,350 shops and a 25% market share. In 2011 alone, the company took stakes worth almost £18bn and made profits of £167.8m in the first half of 2012.

But, as with any shop front, the only way to stay profitable is to innovate, and this betting firm looked to mobile to up the ante.

Juergen Reutter, director of mobile at William Hill, tells Computer Weekly the company started investing in mobile over 10 years ago.  

“We started in 2001, when we first offered mobile secure web services over the WAP [wireless access protocol] environment,” he says. “Back then, there were still underlying tech constraints, such as limited data, limited bandwidth and even limited hardware.

We really caught the train and got familiar with mobile from 2001, even in a tech-limited environment

Juergen Reutter, William Hill

“But we really caught the train and got familiar with mobile from 2001, even in a tech-limited environment.”

Apple iPhone paved the way for gambling on the go

And the technology was limited. It took another six years before William Hill could start to truly enable betting on the move, and Reutter puts his thanks squarely at Apple’s door.

“It was the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, when the technology and ecosystems changed,” he says. “The App Store was a whole new world to offer services and was the game-changing moment of content-driven hardware, enabling us to offer optimised services on the web, but also use the App Store to distribute applications.”

With mobile teams across three offices in London, Tel Aviv and Gibraltar, the company got to work on developing a mobile web presence and optimising features from its desktop site for small screens, before looking to make a mobile application.

“At the very early stages we had to get familiar with the ecosystems,” says Reutter. “Apple, Google, BlackBerry – there is a lot of complexity around the different options. It is challenging to keep up with the velocity of the mobile industry, as more and more devices are coming out and more screen sizes need to be adapted to.

“We have to translate the experience seamlessly, so whether customers use an Apple, Android or BlackBerry handset, a desktop or tablet device, or go into a retail store, they experience the same thing,” he adds.

The company boasts 600,000 app downloads on Apple handsets alone, and 30% of its revenue now comes from mobile devices. 

During the Grand National, for example, 2,500 bets were made every minute on a mobile. This capability has offered a path for William Hill to attract new customers who would not have used its high street betting shops.   

“Mobile has opened up new ways of engaging and communicating with our customers, such as push notifications or SMS,” says Reutter.

It is not just about using us on your mobile, but using your mobile in our retail and desktop environments too

Juergen Reutter, William Hill

Leading the way in mobile betting

But he admits that with the opportunity came responsibility and pressure to stay current. “The challenge is keeping up to date with the ever-changing mobile industry,” he says.

William Hill is combating this with investment. Its three teams are constantly looking at new ways to up their game, such as the recent introduction of in-game betting, which allows users to bet during a match or race as the odds change. Reutter is confident his company is leading the way in mobile betting.

“We are always reviewing the features we have on the desktop, such as streaming or payment options, to push these onto mobile,” he says. 

“In addition to the move to mobile, there is more innovation from the channel, such as location-based services or mobile payments such as NFC [near-field communications]. This means it is not just about using us on your mobile, but using your mobile in our retail and desktop environments too,” adds Reutter.

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“We are in a time where we need to make mobile applications for any time, anywhere, and we are able to approach a whole new customer base because of it,” he says. 

“On smartphones, it is important to bet on the go. It is for those who want to make a quick bet or for specific scenarios, [and] we offer that,” concludes Reutter.   

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