The Lies, Damn Lies And “Statistics” of Mobile Commerce

We’ve all heard the old saying “there are lies, damn lies and statistics” that can be used to back any opinion and support any position. It looks like this adage is applicable to the current state of mobile commerce.

Mobile commerce is growing in a meaningful and material way by any set of metrics. After all, there are more than four billion feature phones out there globally that are all going to simply go away over time with the transition to smart phones. It’s debatable whether that migration will take five years, 10 years or 20 years, but fundamentally they are all simply going to vanish and be replaced by the next wave of mobile smart phones.  On top of this activity, we also now have a whole new breed of tablet devices that are rapidly eating into the traditional PC market for both desktops and laptops.

In the recent past, we’ve all lived through the migration from narrowband Internet access to broadband Internet access, and the migration from circuit-switched networks to packet-switched networks, but now it’s time to see what’s really happening with the migration from the traditional Internet to the mobile Internet. To that end, where do things actually stand quantitatively and what conclusions should we really be making at this point in the infant stages of the mobile Internet transition process?

After totaling $1.2 billion in mobile commerce revenues in 2009, and doubling in 2010 to $2.4 billion, we currently expect to see mobile commerce explode almost 400% to at least $9 billion in 2011. However, despite the sheer size and growth of the underlying market, there are a lot of conclusions already being drawn about the source of these revenues and the use case for the consumers generating them that are, at best, simply fallacious or, at worst, wrong.

For example, take a recent survey from Adobe that suggests that fully two-thirds of their respondents favoured the use of browsers over downloadable mobile apps for accessing product and shopping content. Two-thirds of the users actually want mobile browsers in lieu of mobile apps, even if the same information is identically available through the same mobile friendly web site via either a mobile browser or a mobile app alike. Really?

While it’s fair to say that the survey results are the results based on the manner that the information was presented and positioned, the questions are fundamentally meaningless and the conclusions are inherently flawed. Why can this be said with relative authority? Because the underlying quality of the interactions between enterprises and their consumers currently is so poor, missing or all over the map on mobile that users remain in a frustrated and confused state regarding where they can even find what they want from the brands that matter most to them. Consumers are not having real mobile commerce experiences that allow meaningful conclusions to be drawn.

To that end, Google recently stated that 80% of their largest advertisers do not yet even have a mobile enabled web site! Then consider how many of the 20% that do have a mobile friendly web site actually have an accompanying branded mobile experience, or app, that their users can engage with in order to make a purchase decision on their mobile devices. The answer is virtually none (single digit percentage).  The end result is that consumers are left on their own, twisting in the wind, to try to figure out what form of mobile engagement to pursue. Unfortunately, the vast majority of enterprises have yet to take even the initial steps necessary to create a high-value touch point on mobile between their brand and their consumers. There are simply not enough compelling mobile experiences in which to measure even a baseline related to consumers’ preferences.

In parallel, another separate study from InMobi suggests that mobile Internet users would rather shop using a mobile device than a personal computer or laptop, with 74 million of 310 million, or 24%, of Americans currently shopping on their mobile phone. Now thinking about this data- set in the context of the previous data-set, we see a significant disconnect. Namely, Americans are suggesting that they’d rather shop using a mobile device rather than a personal computer or laptop, but the corporations they would shop from have overwhelmingly not provided either a mobile friendly web site or a mobile application experience (app) for them to leverage to accomplish this task.

The questions being asked by Adobe, Google and InMobi are important ones, but they should be framed in the context of the existing state of the marketplace so that false conclusions and premature assessments do not lead brands astray. Mobile is not about apps and it’s not about features. It’s also largely unimportant whether or not engagements are native or web-centric. In all cases, the only thing that matters is what the experience is like for the mobile user. What is important is the underlying core value or utility for users.

Consumers want to engage with a brand that they possess an affinity for … anytime and anywhere that they choose. Without value or utility, then there is no engagement. Without engagement, then there is no emotional commitment. And without emotional connection, then there is no impulse purchase or loyalty to keep coming back.