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Over the past 3 days I attended the Internet Retailers Mobile Commerce Forum, where the week’s events were filled with insightful and useful information presented by some of the world’s leaders in mobile commerce. The thing I found most interesting was each of the presenters seemed to all be in agreement on common themes. Presenters typically take different stands on items which are top priority and of less relevance, but this conference, it was really notable that there is good alignment across the key priorities when I comes to mobile commerce. The following are 10 common themes:

1. A mobile site is now table stakes (and not just an optimized version of a full sized site) The number one theme presented across all aspects of the conference is that most people expect that a mobile site will be presented when they browse from a small screen device. This is no longer something companies should be merely thinking about — especially companies who are trying to transact in mobile, or offer any type of mobile presence, technology or mobile knowledge services. (The number one thing everyone does as part of their due diligence in determining who to work with all the way from strategy to execution, is look at the vendor’s site and see what the mobile experience is.) Users turn to mobile on-the-fly, and they expect to land at an “m.site” (pronounced emdot site). Many will just leave rather than pinch and squint. That said, mobile sites do not need to offer all the content of their parent full sized sites. A well represented idea in site design was to design the mobile site first, as your mobile site should only contain “the most important” messages and features. Full-sized sites usually offer all of the stuff from mobile sites plus a lot more.

2. The ROI of mobile is not just about transacting on mobile Mobile sites and mobile apps are much more important to business than just for converting buyers. Many presenters spoke of the value they have been able to track using analytics that showed customers using their apps to discover, and learn about products, then utilizing them to locate a store and then transact in store with POS. While this is less relevant to digital fulfillment retailers, there was a fair amount of discussion of the convergence of physical and digital goods. For example a reward for hitting a specific in-store purchase threshold on physical goods could unlock digital content like music or games (which many not be “charged” for directly). Also, the combination of mobile technologies like geolocation, SMS and always-with-the-user provides for synergies which allow for improved engagement, relevance and timeliness of messaging and targeting. Recent data from various studies was presented projecting that the real mobile transacting hitting critical mass is still 1-4 years out.

3. A mobile app is not the same as a mobile site, and consumers do not expect them to do the same thing The main purpose of a mobile app is to engage. If it doesn’t, it either doesn’t get installed or it gets forgotten. While many of the presentations this week focused on physical goods retail, the themes and concepts are consistent. Browsers and consumers expect that mobile apps will take advantage of mobile technologies. Geolocation, camera-based operations, richer interfaces and the “connected everywhere” aspects are key. It’s very common for apps and sites to be very interlinked. For example, a rich discovery process can interact with a mobile site to provide more cloud-based content and features. (Even offline, as with SkyMall, where you can have a browsing experience while disconnected, then transact when you are back in a wifi/mobile connected zone).

4. Mobile apps and sites are becoming richer in content Mobile apps are all going through an evolution, moving from simple text-based navigations to rich content navigations including imagery and video. This is enabled primarily due to the expansive reach of wifi, and the improved technologies for communications like 4G and other emerging technologies. In the retail world, consumers are expecting the same type of visual impact as on larger formats. Obviously, there are challenges due to screen re-estate and connectivity/bandwidth, but this is quickly disappearing and expectations are set high due to things like Youtube and other rich media on smart phones.

5. Optimize your email for Mobile A very high number of emails (numbers differed from session to session but it was as high as 80%) are first read through mobile devices (smart phones or feature phones with no graphics). This points to a very important aspect of ensuring that ALL email is optimized for mobile browsing, and that multiple devices are considered.

6. SMS is strong, and customers who engage using it, convert more with a higher AOV (average order value) Opt-in SMS campaigns are still a very strong part of online engagement and communications tools used today. It was noted in many presentations that customers who engage with opt-in campaigns are more engaged with retailers, and thus convert more with higher order values. SMS campaigns are sophisticated taking inputs from the whole engagement experience, and offering segmented and targeted two-way communications, and although automated, really do engage consumers.

7. The iPad is special (compared to other “mobile” devices) There is mobile, and there is iPad. Many companies are building iPad specific sites and apps to engage deeper with customers and to take advantage of the specific technologies which are offered. Many speakers talked about the engagement levels being much higher on iPad. After work and weekends (couch time) are the most popular times for users to engage with commercial websites and apps.

8. The Multi-device play is paramount A web site, iPhone, Android and iPad experience all need to share common elements like user profile / targeting information and cart / basket / wishlists. The Home Shopping Network presented a very sophisticated presentation showing how all of these devices work together to offer a rich and far reaching environment — sharing assets, and user information, but utilizing the unique features of each device in a special way. Many uses will engage using more than one device at the same time (watching the Home Shopping Channel on TV while looking at deeper product content on an iPad, or transacting on a mobile device).

9. Location based services (both macro and micro location) and targeting is gaining momentum As a leader in the location based specific marketing world, “ShopKicK” installs devices at the front entrance of many retailers physical stores, which identify when a user “walks through the doors”. Combined with a user installed mobile app, it offers incentives, promotions and loyalty points to consumers every time they go to a specific location. Combined with in-store specific tagging technologies, “gamification” can be enabled, drawing consumers into physical locations and actually driving them to specific locations within the store to seek out “tags” to complete puzzles and gain rewards. This can then be used in conjunction with physical and digital goods rewards. As an example, with the Shopkick app installed, you walk in the door with the app running, it rewards you for “coming to the store,” then it tells you to find a specific items in the store for a reward. Going to the specific location in the store, and using your camera to scan the tags on product boxes or displays then unlocks a digital download for a piece of music or a game or some other digital reward. Also, knowing that you have been to that location in the store, the retailer can also message you about specific other items at or near that location in the store and offer digital coupons. Too cool.

10. User experience testing gaining visibility and traction Many sessions discussed user experience design up front, and usability testing (in various forms) as a way to vet designs, tune and optimize. There was a lot more focus on this than I have noticed in previous workshops and conferences. It appears that retailers have learned from the past (web 1.0) that its not about just “build it, they will come.” There is a lot more energy and focus on understanding the users, and ensuring mobile apps are usable, and relevant. Momentum is definitely building around this area.

This article is by Linda Bustos from getelastic.com.