Why is this relevant to you?
In the U.S. economy alone, mobile commerce revenue rose from $268 to $338 billion from 2019-2020. It’s even more alarming to look at where that same revenue stood in 2013 – just a fraction at $41B. If you’re not paying attention to how people shop, you will be left behind.
Chapter 1: So, What Exactly is Mobile eCommerce?
Mobile Commerce, or sometimes called m-Commerce, is the buying and selling of goods and services through a wireless device such as a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. People want to shop, pay bills, or access information. And they want to do it now from anywhere. By the end of 2021, global mobile eCommerce sales are projected to hit $3.56 trillion. Yes, you read that right. Mobile commerce is no fad.
A keyword to note when talking about mobile commerce upfront is omnichannel. You must give the shopper or user the ability, flexibility and confidence to start or finish a transaction anyway they choose; whether that looks like an optimized site accessed from a laptop, or a dedicated mobile shopping app from a smartphone. The experience must be seamless.
Gone are the days of a desktop computer to transact daily life. Managing your finances, buying groceries on an app, or having the ability to pay without swiping a card through a digital wallet are under the mobile commerce umbrella. In fact, mobile commerce falls into three distinct categories or pillars:
- Mobile shopping
- Mobile banking
- Mobile payments
Is it the Same as eCommerce?
Think of mobile commerce as the catalyst in the ever-evolving journey of e-Commerce or as an essential player. Mobile commerce solutions are the fuel of e-Commerce, providing the groundwork for advancement and more robust products and services. Here are just a few ways mobile commerce influences e-Commerce:
Shopping Behavior – most shoppers make their purchases online. When you once depended on a visit to the brick-and-mortar shop, mobile shopping has well surpassed those numbers. When your device is always on, and you have half the time to do twice the things, mobile shopping becomes the norm.
Purchasing Behavior – trends emerge from mobile purchasing behavior such as the time it takes to make the purchase. While some purchases are made relatively quickly from discovery, as in within minutes, a trend referred to as showrooming, occurs when a customer comparison shops while in-store and ultimately buys online.
Brand Loyalty – when time and space are of the essence, customers rely on the brands who perform for them time and time again. It’s no surprise Amazon leads the pack with the highest mobile commerce customer base – they’ve designed and executed on the model and tools for a seamless, speedy shopping experience, every time.
Enhanced Customer Experience Tools – mobile app advancement through tools such as augmented reality and chatbots improve the experience on apps customers already know and trust.
Chapter 2: Mobile Commerce: The Origin Story
Our story begins with primitive computer networks dating back to the 1960s and Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), where documents could be shared across business machines. EDI was further developed by the military for intelligence purposes.
Fast forward to the 1980s, with the introduction of CompuServe – one of the first major service providers of message boards and chat rooms, (known as one of the Big 3 information services) and the advent of the Electronic Mall. In 1991, the National Science Foundation officially opened the floodgates by lifting commercial internet use bans.
E-commerce was born. Early adopters like Amazon, Dell, Hewlett Packard, and eBay entered the space and the rest is history.
When it comes to mobile commerce advancements, many believe the first app was the Nokia 6110’s built-in arcade game Snake first introduced in 1997. However as far back as 1983 the founders of Apple envisioned a rudimentary application store.
Around 2007, we see the first app store launched along with the release of the iPhone with upwards of 500 applications. As smartphones gained in popularity and release so did new app clients such as Google Play.
Retail behemoth Amazon launched its app store in 2011 across 200 countries. As recently as 2018, Amazon rigorously invested in its dedicated mobile shopping app, improving experience across mobile devices, such as a focus on single hand usability specifically for a smartphone. As it stands today, Amazon customers can shop and ship over 45 million products globally, across five languages, and within 25 currencies.
It’s also worthy to note that many first iteration app stores offered paid and free apps, where the concepts of premium and “freemium” content entered the zeitgeist and still exist today.
A few more notable points about the birth of e-Commerce and the emergence of mobile commerce technology as we experience it today:
- With security top of mind in online transactions, Netscape 1.0 released in 1994 addressed these concerns with a protocol named Secure Socket Layer (SSL), designed to keep data transfers secure through encryption. Third party credit card processing soon followed.
- CompuServe launched the Electronic Mall in 1984. While not commercially successful at the time, it was the first of its kind enabling purchases from over 100 online retailers.
- In the early 1980s only research universities primarily owned computers. Emails and documents were shared across networks like BITNET and USENET.
- The New York Times reported the first online purchase was made by a man named Phil Brandenberger in Philadelphia on August 11, 1994. He purchased a Sting album on his computer.
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Chapter 3: The Three Pillars of Mobile Commerce
What are the foundations of mobile commerce? As we briefly introduced earlier:
Mobile Shopping – the overall buying of goods and services online via a mobile device. As mobile shoppers gain in numbers, vendors invest in site optimization and dedicated apps to win the trust of mobile users.
Mobile Banking – usually involving a dedicated app, mobile banking is like online banking with some limitations on a mobile device. With growing numbers of mobile customers, there is an expectation to pay bills, check balances, make deposits, and transfer funds wholly from a wireless device.
Mobile Payments – a broad range of transactions fall into this category from shopping to bill pay.
Think of this pillar as a more of a wide, far-reaching net. In the vast world of e-Commerce transactions in the trillions, mobile users are in different buying or service journeys; retailers function in B2C, B2B, and other environments and sell to a broad base. You’ve got customers paying bills, buying for the home, buying for their business, or buying for someone else’s business. It’s important to note the complexities and the volume of the mobile payment category.
Now a bit more detail into each category…
The revolution is mobile
From a brick-and-mortar, to a desktop computer, to a handheld device, shopping has come a long way in an alarmingly short time. In record numbers, smartphone and tablet users demand more ways to shop in less time with an intuitive experience to meet all their needs. With more than half of internet traffic shopping from a mobile device, it’s crucial retailers pay attention to the mobile shopping experience.
Optimizing the space you’re given with the time you have
And what does that mean? Understanding your customer’s needs and pain points throughout the mobile commerce journey, wherever they are. A few key terms when evaluating a site’s performance, look, and feel:
Visual hierarchy – showing content when and where it’s needed to minimize distraction and increase focus
Effective storytelling – guiding the user through a logical flow from browsing to cart to checkout
Clean design – a balance of white space, text, and imagery
Dynamic User Interaction (UI) built in the design phase – more on UX and UI later
Responsive/adaptive design – not all screens are created equal. Site optimization reduces user disruptions across devices as they engage a site with each
It’s all in the app
With smartphones dominating the mobile commerce landscape, the app has become essential to the shopping experience. Converting at a much higher rate than web, businesses must now develop apps to stay competitive in the market. Shopping app usage rose globally mid-2021 with Android users clocking in at 2 billion hours per week. While this number is arguably influenced by the COVID pandemic, research supports mobile app shopping overwhelmingly leads the pack and will continue that trajectory.
Transacting at the speed of business
With 7 out of 10 consumers using a mobile device to manage their bank account in the last month, mobile banking is another e-Commerce hero. A few breakout stars in this category include:
Mobile Banking Apps – research shows customers look to the availability of mobile banking dedicated apps when choosing a financial institution. For simple transfers and balance checks, to opening accounts or depositing checks, mobile banking apps offer speed, ease, and peace-of-mind without the hassle of an ATM or visiting a branch in person.
Pay Down Apps – an emerging trend in mobile banking is the pay down app where a loan is paid off by rounding purchases to the nearest dollar to offset the original amount. Simple, easy, and secure, it gives customers more options to traditional lending.
Cardless ATM Withdrawal – not necessarily a new technology, cardless ATM withdrawal has been refined in recent years to work with digital wallets like Google Pay to withdraw funds using Near Field Communication or NFC. (More on that in Mobile Payment below.) Manifold benefit with this technology since the customer doesn’t have to carry cards or be concerned with card theft. An app created QR code can also replace a card to complete the transaction.
In-App Chatbots – solving for another customer service pain point, chatbots offer consistent help 24/7 on a myriad of issues to avoid the dreaded call queue. As technology evolves built for the consumer on the move, look for more advancements in mobile banking especially in the areas of biometric authentication and voice activation.
Digital Wallets: Say Goodbye to Cards & Cash
The digital wallet, or e-wallet, is one mobile payment option to watch. It allows electronic transfers through digital currency units, a linked bank account, or in some applications individuals store their driver license or ID information for credentialing purposes.
These applications allow you to pay individuals or a business for goods and services, through linked financial information for one click transactions. They’ve gained popularity for their ease of use and speed, especially for personal transactions among family and friends for shared expenses or events, as in the case of CashApp or Venmo.
Here is where Near Field Communication (NFC) comes into play. A user’s credentials or payment information can be identified by a retailer’s terminal wirelessly without a physical card swipe. Besides contactless payment with apps like Apple or Samsung Pay, other examples of NFC include access control such as parking garage or ticketed venue entry.
Drawbacks to the digital wallet include geography limitations and security risk, but here are a few advantages to bear in mind:
- No need to carry around cards and cash
- Hassle-free transactions
- Addressing the real threat of security, many digital wallet functions operate through a secure gateway with encryption
- Many apps offer rewards for repeated use
- Think of the multiplicity of services – the digital wallet is built for broad use: bills, groceries, entertainment, and travel (to name a few) from one payment source
Biometric Authentication: Futuristic to Reality
Many mobile users already use a fingerprint to unlock a phone, now comes the next wave of facial and voice recognition to unlock digital wallets. More mobile consumers are finding greater peace-of-mind with this type of payment security and companies are seeking out the investment.
A recent study indicates by 2024 biometric authentication is expected to increase by 1000% - to the tune of nearly $2.5 trillion in transactions.
Flexible Payment: More Ways to Pay, Your Way
A third and final call out in the world of mobile payments are flexible payment options. Many online retailers are responding to increased cart abandonment rates and budgeting needs among consumers. For bigger ticket items like furniture and exercise equipment, retailers offer a zero-interest installment loan at the point of sale to incentivize the purchase.
Now that we’ve explored specific features and influences, let’s take a higher view of the actual benefits of mobile commerce.
Chapter 4: Benefits of Mobile Commerce: A Snapshot
Mobile commerce benefits vary on who you talk to, but here are advantages worth noting:
- Accessibility – give your customers the flexibility to perform multiple transactions from anywhere in less time
- Convenience – simplified price comparison from a single device. QR codes and mobile push notifications further help your customer make more of an informed decision - the shopping experience becomes seamless from browsing, to cart, to purchase
- Variety – Your customers have a wider product selection, better pricing, and a fuller menu of services
- Retention – Satisfied customers are repeat customers
- Automation – From a business use case the customer journey is streamlined and trackable
In this case, more is better. More products, more services, more content to inform buying decisions. More opportunity for customer insight to enhance overall experience.
Chapter 5: Hurdles of Mobile Commerce
As with any revolution comes adaptation hurdles and workarounds. Let’s look at a few common mobile commerce challenges:
- Regulatory Limitations – Tax laws and regulations outside a country of origin can limit product availability. A company may prohibit shipping across borders to avoid foreign regulation on goods and services.
- Geography – Mobile payment options are limited by geographic location. For example, not all businesses accept or have compatibility with all types of digital wallets. This leads to buyer frustration and lost opportunity.
- Poor Execution – if your mobile experience lacks follow through to address basic bugs or is not well thought out, it alarmingly affects the bottom line – it takes about 50 milliseconds (or .05 seconds) for a user to decide how they feel about your website, and that boils down to if they stay or go. And it will cost you. More about design later…
- Connectivity – Internet access is not created equal. Most transactions require a connectivity of 3G or more, any less creates user frustration especially in the purchase process.
- Risk – with great power comes great responsibility. All businesses assume risk; however, with data transfers involving personal financial information there assumes an ever-greater security risk to the consumer.
Now let’s shift gears to examine the look and feel of mobile commerce, specifically the importance of metrics and UX Design.
Chapter 6: High Performance Metrics & UX Design of Mobile Commerce
So, what goes into building a better mobile commerce experience? First, metrics.
Google user experience metrics set the industry standard for high performance web design. Users expect a swift, responsive experience from device to device. Three metrics drive the quality of a site’s design and performance - and dramatically affect the mobile commerce experience.
Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) – measures perceived load times and marks the point where the page’s main content has likely loaded. Reducing the LCP helps the user see essential content faster.
First Input Delay (FID) – measures responsiveness from when a user first interacts with the page and how fast the page responds to the action. Going back to the matter of milliseconds a site must meet to satisfy a user, this metric is key but can be tricker to measure.
Cumulative Layer Shift (CLS) – measures visual stability because it helps quantify how often users experience unexpected layout shifts, as in when an ad or other unexpected content pops up from a clinked link. A low CLS ensures intrusive ads or banners won’t disrupt the experience and ultimately drive users away.
UX and UI: The Architects of User Experience and Design
The terms UX and UI design entered business vernacular around 1995, and refer to User Experience and User Interface, respectively. These principals of design are based in ergonomics, and ultimately involve improving a customer’s interaction with a product. Let’s take a deeper dive into how each function and how the roles truly complement each other…
User Experience Design: Interaction & Satisfaction
UX is about pleasing the customer from start to finish. Research, development, and testing are conducted to optimize the customer’s journey. Visual design, usability, and interactive design components are examined at this stage.
UX Design considers business goals: does this product interaction align with mission and vision? Is the experience enjoyable? Useful? Are there pain points along the way? User Experience in Practice A UX designer is trained to look for interface efficiencies and target each step of a customer’s journey with a product. Let’s say a customer is on a retail eyeglass site browsing frames from a mobile device like a tablet. A UX Designer reviews the components of the experience as a whole and asks:
- Is the flow smooth? Does the customer understand the process of selecting a frame and using the virtual try-on?
- Does the shape of each button display correctly on the screen? What about in contrast to a mobile phone?
- Would additional content help the user, such as more detail about facial measurements the customer needs to provide?
- Is the process of selecting glasses enjoyable to the user? Are they excited to receive their purchase?
User Interface Design: Creativity & Functionality Meet
On the User Interface side of the coin, designers typically have more creative backgrounds, but must balance that with following rules as to what the customer ultimately wants.
The visual must be aesthetically pleasing, but the interaction must be what the user expects. UI Designers conduct research into competitor’s brands and how users interact with them. In the same eyeglass example as above, a UI Designer may ask themselves these questions:
- Are the drop downs easy to use? Is the typeface easy to read?
- Is each frame style represented in a way for the user to see every angle? Is each frame style modeled?
- Is the color palette of the site consistent with branding?
- Where would a video be explaining the order process best fit in the existing content?
UX and UI Differences
The shared goal among UX and UI is the customer experience, however the approach, tools, and required skill sets differ.
The UX approach is more analysis and project management based, while the UI side takes a more creative role with visual elements based on the UX recommendation. There is no chicken or the egg equivalency between the two; while UX precedes UI, both disciplines are considered equal and necessary.
Here are a few more side-by-side comparisons:
UX: vs. UI:
Function & Purpose vs. Interaction Quality
Efficiency vs. Artistic Quality
Testing & Previewing vs. Content Creation & Branding
Consults programmers vs Consults marketing
UX/UI considerations are driving more mobile commerce success stories. It’s a value add and a must-have for anyone transacting goods and services online. As customers move to even greater heights of mobile commerce connectivity, the experience must be flawless.
Conclusion: Mobile Commerce Differentiators & Final Thoughts
As you’ve read through this guide to gain valuable insight into mobile commerce, we encourage you to look at your own shopping habits; how many times over a week, even a day, are you using a mobile device to shop? Pay a bill? From the grocery delivery to the gas bill, to the airline tickets, to the dinner you split with friends, how many of these transactions do you complete on a mobile app without thinking about it? And what are the elements that bring you back to the same experience time and time again?
In the rapidly evolving mobile commerce world, how will businesses differentiate? By giving users an experience they’ve never had before with a brand.
Who will consistently win? In a 2020 article, Alice Wong, from mobile payment leader PayPal, shared further insights from a study of global e-Commerce merchants. Here’s what she found:
- Optimize your site for mobile or app
- Keep shopping carts hard to abandon and in close range
- Make checkout easy
- Make shoppers feel safe
- Get rid of distractions
- Always Be Testing
- Accept payments that customers prefer
- Choose a platform that works hard for your business
This is the world of mobile commerce. Complex, fast, powerful, and game changing.
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