When will mobile commerce be ready for prime time?
The secret sauce of the mobile channel: engagement
Try this some afternoon. Walk in to a Best Buy store, scrutinize some high-ticket item, such as a gigantic flat-screen TV, and then see what the nearby sales associates do. Chances are their already surly attitudes will become more so.
Why? Because Best Buy—and, to be fair, many retailers—are worried about something they call "showrooming," or consumers using their stores as a showroom floors to investigate products and then walking right back out to find a better price online.
Personally, I find this to phenomena to stem more from paranoia than anything. I mean, if I'm going to buy online anyway, why on earth would I subject myself to the torture of entering a Big Box store?
If I don't like what arrives in the mail, I'll ship it back (on Amazon's dime) and try again. If I do enter a Big Box store, the only way I can justify the psychic pain is by walking out with some gadget I must absolutely have right this minute.
According to Andrew Schrage, co-founder of Money Crashers, a personal finance website, Amazon continues to outperform mcommerce (and most Big Box stores) partially because it has done a better job of engaging customers. Whereas most mcommerce retailers are overly focused on price and rely too much on display ads, which typically aren't very user-friendly, Amazon offers up recommendations specific to you.
"Setting an affordable price is not the sole factor to drive sales and increase revenues—providing a more streamlined experience for the consumer is equally important. Businesses that can do this will be the ones at the forefront to overtake Amazon and other Web-based retailers," Schrage says.
Now, I should pause here to point out that not every Big Box retailer is succumbing to showrooming fears. Lowe's, for instance, is bullish on mobile.
"Lowe's built its mobile success from the inside out," says ForeSee's Feinberg. "It started using mobile devices to help sales associates become more knowledgeable, and it then moved forward to use mobile apps to make its customers more knowledgeable too."
In other words, the mobile channel can serve as an extension of the physical location. Perhaps, people do research first on their mobile phone, or they do research in the store itself, but if you engage customers while they are on their mobile devices, instead of ignoring or discouraging them, they will indeed be your customers and not someone else's.
"[At Lowe's] when someone without a lot of home-improvement experience walks into the store, they feel like they're on equal footing with the sales staff," Feinberg says. "This is why Best Buy will continue to fail. Instead of worrying about showrooming, they should worry about the customer experience."