Retailers must offer more than mobile Web to stay competitive

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Last week, research commissioned by M-Retailing indicated that retailers in the UK are increasingly seeing mobile as a business essential, but many remain unsure as to how to maximize its potential.

Of the British retailers surveyed, 84% agreed that making sure websites are optimized for mobile will be crucial for 2011. Despite these findings, many retailers have yet to take action. While the number of respondents who have used mobile rose slightly from M-Retailing’s last survey, 35% have yet to leverage the channel in any form.

In today’s business landscape, it’d be wrong to think that any company, especially retailers, can grow and be successful without a comprehensive mobile offering. Consumers are increasingly utilizing mobile when shopping – not just when they don’t have the access to the brick-and-mortar stores, but even whilst they’re physically shopping, for example to compare prices, read reviews, and even make purchases from their mobiles from a competing store if its offer is cheaper, whilst standing in the original shop the consumer is physically shopping in!

However, retailers need to offer even more than just mobile web if they are to stay competitive. It is surprising that retailers are continuing to limit themselves by focusing on a single mobile channel – despite the widely reported fragmentation in the mobile market.

While the survey’s findings suggest that mobile internet is an absolute must-have, and first port of call for many retailers this year, it is important that this is just a company’s first step, rather than its entire mobile strategy. In reality, the question of whether retailers choose to implement a mobile website or app is not as important as choosing to dedicate the necessary time and resources to developing a sound mobile strategy – and simply creating a mobile web wrapper is not enough!

When it comes to mobile interaction, consumer preferences vary greatly in terms of the tools that they use – from the ever-growing field of location-based services to SMS to native mobile apps. Nowadays, there are so many options for consumers that if a retailer’s mobile offering does not meet their expectations they can – and will – simply move on to a competitor that will. I have seen this happen, with the rate of conversion and return visits much higher when customers are given the option of native apps in addition to mobile web.

The only way to ensure the success of any mobile strategy is to provide users with a comprehensive offering that allows them to perform several must-have mobile functions. What the survey doesn’t address is new technologies, such as mobile payments, augmented reality and barcode scanning, which will all make for a better user experience and in turn help generate revenue.

It’s important that retailers, and any business for that matter, remember that constant innovation is critical as competition is fierce, and becoming stronger as companies get more experienced. A cross-platform solution allows retailers to cost effectively deploy an end-to-end mobile offering to any phone, tablet or browser from a single application definition, freeing them up to do what they do best – satisfy their customers.

David Eads leads Product Marketing for Kony, the mobile commerce platform vendor. David is a mobile commerce veteran and was the founder of consulting firm Mobile Strategy Partners in 2009. As a blogger and frequent industry speaker, David has been interviewed about mobile for national media outlets like Mobile Commerce Daily, Marketplace on NPR, Inc Magazine, The Toronto Star, and The Christian Science Monitor. Additionally, David also has a decade of technical experience developing enterprise software systems in Java and other languages for UNIX, Windows, and other systems.