Mobile Commerce: Getting in Right

The following is a guest post from Jim Wehmann, senior vice president of global marketing for Digital River.

Mobile commerce continues to generate a lot of buzz among online marketers. It holds out the promise of sizable incremental sales as tablet and mobile smartphone shipments continue to soar. Smartphone sales in 2012 are expected to be nearly 1.8 billion units, while tablet unit sales are expected to climb to nearly 100 million. Mobile commerce in the hands of this many consumers is a very exciting prospect. And it speaks to the very core of direct marketing – go where your customers are rather than waiting for them to come to you. Mobile commerce will truly enable consumers to purchase anytime, anywhere – on the commuter train, at the pool, at the game and everywhere else on the go.

But, getting it right is more difficult than just pushing out your Web content and shopping experience to a connected device. The challenge starts with the smaller screen, but it doesn’t end there. There are other issues regarding consumer behavior and expectations, dedicated app versus browser, geo-targeting and follow-up communication.

Consumer behavior and expectations

Consumer behavior and expectations while using a mobile device continue to evolve and diverge from the behavior they display while using a PC or laptop to access the Web and Web-based commerce. Most significant are expectations around simple, easy-to-navigate user experiences. Think about it – the consumer is on the go, perhaps in the company of other people and most often with a more limited keyboard. He or she wants an expedited shopping experience that can be completed quickly. Solutions like stored credentials and account information become crucial to them having an overall good buying experience. Marketers should be even more sensitive to the number of steps and necessary information that needs to be captured during checkout processes on a mobile device.

Smaller screen size

We’ve all experienced the less than satisfactory user experience while accessing Web content on a mobile device. Most often this is in the form of having to scroll left and right and up and down to fully view a page or image or even text. Obviously, the smaller screen size presents a challenge to the marketer. Combine this with the changing consumer behaviors and expectations mentioned above and not getting the content and format right can dramatically interfere with a successful launch of a mobile commerce initiative. Part of the solution is device detection and designing the Web content for an optimized mobile experience. Most of the best Web content management systems can perform device detection and have tools that allow the marketer and designer to build pages perfectly optimized for the screen size of each device.

When planning the optimal mobile commerce experience, it’s important to keep a few things in mind. First, mobile commerce lends itself to less complicated, higher impulse products. Solution selling with highly structured, complicated products is less suited to the mobile environment. For complex products, typically the best option is to dangle some teaser copy and images and direct the user to another channel, perhaps a phone call to a sales representative from the smartphone right then. Or maybe a short lead generation form for follow up in an alternative channel, perhaps email. Second, recognize the fact that cross-selling and upselling are more difficult and at times downright disruptive to closing the sale on the mobile device.  When compared to a laptop, the experience and screen size just don’t accommodate accessorizing as well, whether it is on a product detail or interstitial page. In some cases, business models that depend on driving higher average order values through such techniques may not transition well to the mobile device.

The dedicated app versus the browser

Many merchants wonder whether a dedicated, branded app distributed through an app marketplace can make a significant impact on the mobile commerce experience. These apps are generally designed with a built-in browser that allows the end user to browse and shop from the online merchant without accessing the device’s native browser or a third-party browser. In addition, they also often come with other useful functionality that can enhance the user experience, for example, account information or perhaps a locker of previous purchases in the digital content space. A dedicated app also generally eliminates the need to execute standard device detection as mentioned above. Finally, having a dedicated app on the home page of the device is a great marketing opportunity to keep your brand top of mind at every use of the device. On the other hand, due to app proliferation, standing out amongst the clutter is getting harder and harder.


Geo-location has become an important feature in improving many online user experiences. For example, the search engines include local content on search results pages. In addition, you have likely seen Internet service providers (ISPs) and content providers incorporate targeted local news, weather and sports on their content pages. And merchants are using geo-location to improve the online shopping experience. In the same way, brands thinking about mobile commerce should definitely include geo-targeting in their mobile user experiences. Most mobile operating systems enable a dedicated app through API’s or the native browser through HTML5 to access the GPS of the mobile device. Through this functionality merchants can provide value added information, such as best sellers in the consumer’s area, location of the nearest stores and even targeted merchandising. This might include merchandising outerwear on the home page to people located in northern climates in the winter. In some instances, this more precise location detection can create an even better user experience than geo-targeting through IP address detection on a laptop in the home or office.

Follow-up Communication

Marketers are beginning to optimize their promotional emails for the smaller screen of mobile devices. Post transaction email communication to the customer, including confirmation and bounce back emails are sure to follow. Marketers should be tracking customers’ online shopping channel preference and optimize the follow-up communication for the highest frequency channel. Another approach would be to optimize each individual follow-up communication based on the channel of the related purchase. In this way, mobile buyers would get confirmation and bounce back emails optimized for their mobile devices. Another best practice is to include a “view online” link, which allows the marketer to code the email Web page in a way that is fully optimized for laptop and mobile device viewing.

Mobile commerce presents exciting new possibilities for marketers. And tablet and smartphone penetration and growth are just too big to ignore. But, marketers need to be realistic about how quickly their mobile commerce sales will build. Certain categories, including less complex and higher impulse products are more amenable to the mobile shopping experience. Regardless of the category, however, all marketers can improve their results by paying attention to both the limitations on the one hand and the expanded opportunities on the other of selling through mobile devices.

About the Author

Jim Wehmann is senior vice president of global marketing for Digital River (, a leading provider of global e-commerce solutions that builds and manages online businesses for software and game publishers, consumer electronics manufacturers, distributors, online retailers and affiliates.