Making m-commerce happen

Mobile commerce has the potential to generate huge revenues, but the industry must pull together to move m-commerce forward and...

Mobile commerce has the potential to generate huge revenues, but the industry must pull together to move m-commerce forward and ensure maximum benefits, writes Graham Marriner

There is no doubt that the potential of mobile commerce is huge and that is why there is so much interest, and money, in this area. Everyone - both suppliers and business users - is engaged in weighing up the relative benefits of today's technology against what is around the corner.
The reason for all this manoeuvring is that m-commerce is a chance to target customers on a one-to-one basis.
Unlike TV, which the whole family watches, or the PC, which may have several simultaneous users, the mobile phone or personal digital assistant is now, in effect, an extension of an individual. It is switched on for very large parts of many people's conscious hours. And it is for their private use only.
It is the aim of all marketing people to develop a close personal relationship with every customer. In the jargon: the ultimate fine grain interface. If the customer believes that he is the one and only customer then he is much more likely to stay loyal to that company.
Mobile devices should enable the most direct of direct marketing. And if a marketer knows his or her message is going straight to the target audience, more money will be spent on the mobile medium to generate yet greater returns. In short, m-commerce has the potential to generate huge revenues.
There are some other attractions. Because mobile devices are always with you, they allow the user to act on impulse. There are no barriers to someone acting there and then. For example, you are in the pub chatting to a friend who tells you about his wonderful holiday. You could pick your phone up and book a similar holiday there and then.
Another example is Ladbroke's m-commerce site where, for example, someone watching a football match at Old Trafford can dial in and place a bet on who will score the next goal.
So, the opportunities may be endless. And marketeers are still only just touching the surface. However, the technology to enable these opportunities has to be delivered at every stage, and there is much evidence to show that the next steps on the m-commerce ladder will not give what has been promised.
Why, for example, would anyone want to throw away their current GSM phone for a GPRS phone when initially there will be very few new generation applications to take advantage of.
And it won't come cheap - the figures I've heard are a fee of £30 per month for a 5Mbyte connection and £65 per month for a 50Mbyte connection. This is quite a mark up and there is clear evidence that the networks will not be there to support the services.
It's likely then that customer expectations will not be met and that, in the short term, they will stay with their GSM phones that give reliable voice and SMS texting services. That will reduce the amount of capital available to invest in the next cycle of technology.
In my role at Consignia, I would like to see a simple handheld screen device that gives one-touch access to Consignia's home page, rather like the favourites list that you have on your browser on your PC.
The problem with many of today's mobile phones is that they carry a lot of unnecessary functionality that takes up memory and battery power, and is only played with by a small fraction of users. None of that helps me to sell to my customers.
The suppliers of mobile devices need to think about aspects of the PC and how they can be incorporated into the handheld world. At the moment they are seen as two distinct and disparate devices rather than extensions of each other.
To get buy-in from the consumer, all these questions have to be presented as having been solved. And at the moment we are a far cry from that.
What is needed is for the network providers, hardware suppliers and major companies which will buy in to this technology, to work together to find a way of moving m-commerce forward whilst ensuring they all share equally in the benefits of this brave new world.
This need to harmonise the three interested groupings has been recognised by the Government, which has given the soon-to-be-appointed Ofcom regulator the task of bringing them closer together.
While the Monopolies Commission may have something to say about BT, Nokia and Consignia working in alliance, this is the only way to marry technological advances and standards with the commercial dynamics and impetus that will ensure the development and growth of m-commerce Will it happen? Well, in this e-world that continues to harvest a new crop of business models every year, everything is possible.

Graham Marriner is chairman of the CMA's e-business forum and strategy manager for future business at Consignia
This was last published in May 2001

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