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BLOG: The mobile commerce revolution will be messy

Galen Gruman | July 1, 2013
It's a Wild West of competing apps and services for both payments and shopping tools.

If that retailer had a kiosk or a mobile app (for me or the sales associate) that let me order the shirt not in stock locally, it would have made a sale. I would not have bounced. It seems simple, but it's rare.

Part of the problem is that the retailers' supply chain management systems are designed for a long-dead past where inventory management was seasonal and deliveries happened every week or every few days. Real time didn't matter; if you were out, you were out — "come back next week." If you've shopped at Best Buy, Office Depot, Lowes, Home Depot, or the like, you know that their online and mobile sites' inventories are rarely accurate, so you waste time and gas to get a product that isn't there. If you buy online instead to be safe, who knows when it will arrive — few retailers have awareness of shipping — and returning it can be difficult. (Some stores, like Lowes and Home Depot at least have the returns part down.)

I know retailers like to think show-rooming is only about "unfair" pricing from and Wal-Mart, but in my experience a lot of it is driven by the frustration of going to a retailer, not finding what you want, and being stuck with no option other than to go online.

Will customer abuse go mobile?
At the M-Commerce World conference, most of the presentations were by vendors pitching their established worldviews and naked self-interests. It left me convinced that effective m-commerce will come slowly, as companies stay stuck in their ruts and miss the bigger picture to adapt to.

I've been covering mobile tech for two decades, and 12 years ago I was executive editor of a magazine called M-Business that was all about mobile's business opportunities such as m-commerce. Sadly, much of the conversation hasn't changed in those 12 years: Telcos want a piece of the payments market but are afraid of the liability; plus, their users hate them. Everybody and his brother wants retailers to install some unproven proprietary payments terminal and ask their customers to walk away from the easy, familiar, and trusted credit or debit card.

Worst of all, there's a continued strong belief that smartphones are perfect for targeting ads at people as they walk and drive through town. Several vendors, for example, sell retailers systems that monitor phone IDs in malls to track where people go. They don't know who that person is, but they know where that cellphone has been, to build up a profile of likely interests that can then be used to advertise to those people with alerts and the like. If you remember when sales calls were common at dinner time, you know the loathing that such technology will create if deployed the rest of the day on the devices we always have with us.


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