What are the challenges of mobile commerce?
While mobile commerce offers retailers many opportunities, it also has its challenges. The most important ones are technical.
What are the technical limitations of mobile commerce?
The nature of mobile commerce comes with several technical disadvantages:
- Screen size: While mobile phones and tables screens are becoming bigger, the screens are still significantly smaller than those of laptops and PCs. As a result, information has to be condensed or, often better, simply not be offered. The same applies for certain features that may work well on larger screens but are nearly impossible to use on a small screen, like product configurators.
- No keyboard: While several technologies have made it easier to fill in forms on a mobile screen, it is still tough compared to keyboards of laptops and PCs. Retailers have to be aware that on mobile devices they should offer as little information as possible. It is best to store preferences as delivery address and payment preferences as much as possible in the user profile so that he does not have to retype these.
- Bandwidth: While bandwidth is in most countries improving rapidly (most countries now offer 4G next to 3G with 5G being introduced in the first countries in 2018. However, while bandwidth is improving, it is by far stable. Depending on the number of people in the neighborhood, actual Internet speed may still be low. Retailers have to be aware that their mobile websites have to be kept “light”.
- Payment: Depending on the country, the number of payment methods suitable for mobile usage may vary between many and zero. Entering credit card details on a website using a mobile phone is tedious. In China, mobile wallets like those of WeChat and Alipay were built for mobile devices.
Too many kinds of devices
At the start of ecommerce, life was easy (although most ecommerce managers did not perceive it that way at the time). An online shop only had to support one kind of Internet browser, with a clear (and very limited) set of technology on large PC screens.
Now a retailer has to support:
- Many different browsers: although officially all browsers (the major ones being Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari) support the same set of technical guidelines, they are different, resulting in some code not working well or showing a different result on screens
- many screen sizes: a mobile website has to be shown properly on many different screens, from very small to very large (see the next article about responsive design). Extra code is necessary to support this
- many different app platforms: the complexity increases if the retailer not only wants to offer a mobile website but also apps. The technology of apps working on the different operation systems iOS (owned by Apple), Android (owned by Google) and Microsoft differs significantly
- many different kinds of phones: again, apps may work differently depending on the underlying hardware, regardless of the fact that the same operating system is used.
To support all these differences, retailers are forced to make major investments, not only in development but especially in testing their mobile websites and apps on the different platforms.
As a result, many retailers feel they have to choose which platforms, browsers and devices to support and which ones to support less (making no separate investments just checking the basics) and which ones plainly to ignore.
Looking at the company’s current traffic can help make a decision which channels to support and which ones not. However, general statistics also have to be checked as there may be a self-reinforcing effect: if you do not support, for example, Microsoft Internet Explorer, less users who use Microsoft Internet Explorer will be inclined to visit your website. The best solution is when both sources of data are combined. Free sources of browser usage and mobile platform penetration can be found at:
- Net Applications www.netmarketshare.com
- StatCounter http://gs.statcounter.com/
- W3Counter https://www.w3counter.com/
- Wikimedia https://stats.wikimedia.org
The consumer shops across multiple devices. He expects that what he does on the mobile app of a retailer is remembered when he accesses the company’s website. In other words, he expects, a seamless experience. Likewise, the company likes to create one overview of what the customer is doing across all devices.
The traditional cookie used to identify revisiting customers cannot be used across devices. The cookie is set by the browser of an application of the device itself and is not communicated across devices.
Two solutions are currently offered to solve this problem:
- Deterministic matching: This requires the user to identify himself (for example by using a login name and password). This allows the retailer to connect the dots. However, the user often does not want to login at the start of his journey on a mobile app or website. Forcing a user to first login is a barrier for actual usage.
- Probabilistic matching: Analyses the data of each user (what he types, clicks, reads, buys, etcetera) and matches users based on their data. While the user himself does not notice this, it is not a 100% accurate method of matching profiles across devices.
In the end, combining both methods leads to the best results. However, they come at significant investments.
Video: Cross device technology