Clearly retail has been moving to digital over the past few years, but more and more, dollars are being spent on mobile. This is because the experience on mobile is far nicer and more intuitive than on the desktop. Browsing different items by swiping on an iPad is just a better, more immersive experience than clicking the next button on your laptop. While there aren't too many data points in the market yet (US census data on e-commerce only seems to go back a couple years), the trends are clear, e-commerce is growing steadily to take over a large portion of the total retail commerce market. And because mobile is proving to be such a great consumption platform, mobile commerce is growing at over twice the speed of e-commerce.
Mobile is All About Context
Fundamentally, I believe that mobile will be the dominant platform for e-commerce. Where within the next five years mobile commerce will be greater than the share held by purchases made on desktops and laptops. And five years is my conservative estimate. The beauty of mobile and the reason why it is so perfectly suited to retail is that the mobile platforms can provide sellers with contextual information about the customer that is just not possible in any other medium. And this power of contextual data is really just starting to come alive on mobile today.
Traditional Retail is a Guessing Game
This idea of customer context is a stark contrast to traditional retail, where in brick-and-mortar stores, or even on the web, you really can't know anything about your customer until you start interacting with them. That is where high pressure sales tactics come in. If you've ever walked into a store and felt that the sales person who jumped on you to ask if you needed help was pushy and overly aggressive, you were the subject of someone trying to assess context. That salesperson was trained to find out as soon as possible what your intent is and what your likelihood is to actually purchase. If you don't engage them in conversation that's where their context gathering stops, but if you do engage them, they'll try to understand who you are and what you like. This type of data is gathered automatically in e-commerce and is generally gathered over time as you interact more with the retail site. In this way, e-commerce has really just replicated traditional retail.
Why Replicate a Thing of the Past?
Understandably e-commerce is copying a system that works and has been developed over hundreds of years. And in all fairness, the web never really provided a way to handle this process any differently. The same could be said of mobile until very recently. Mobile, with its always on GPS, social logins, persistent profiles and more, is the perfect place to change this way of gathering customer context. With all of the data that a mobile device holds about a potential customer, you can have a far greater understanding of who a customer is and what their intent is, than you ever could in either traditional retail or web-based e-commerce. In fact, you can have greater context the instant a customer opens your mobile commerce app, than a brick-and-mortar store could have after a customer has spent hours in the store. And given that most stores don't have a way of tracking customers beyond the POS, what a salesperson learns about a customer is lost after every visit.
Commerce Will be Defined By Mobile
This is where web-based e-commerce sites made so many strides, they made the data about a customer persistent. This meant that every time a customer visited the site more information was gathered about habits, intent, and so forth, to the point where recommendation engines on sites like Amazon.com can be extremely accurate and powerful. But this requires customer visits and actions within the site itself. Just think for a moment about the possibilities in e-commerce if you could know as much or more about your customer when they first come to a retail site as you do now after twenty visits. You could deliver targeted messaging, products that you know this person is actually interested in, a login method that the customer is known to be comfortable with and more. All of this is becoming possible with mobile. It is possible because of the context that an always-on, always-present device can provide. That is why mobile commerce will redefine commerce as a whole, because frankly brick-and-mortar just has no way to compete with that.