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Mobile Capabilities: Changing the Framework of Shopping

Posted on May 8, 2009 by josh

I was struck recently by a video I watched on, Google's Vic Gundotra: Mobile Phones as Answer Machines. In the video, Vic Gundotra describes how he was having lunch with a friend and his four year old daughter. His friend asked him a question and he replied, "I don't know." His daughter piped in, "Daddy, where's your phone?!" At first he thought nothing of it, but then he and his friend realized that his four year old had surmised that when information was needed, one could simply pull out a phone to obtain it. Remarkable! I have a two year old, and even he has displayed what I perceive as a shift in thinking about information retrieval from my generation to his. We were recently watching "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" on TV and I said to him, "You and I are going to go to the store." He got in the car, climbed into his car seat, and asked me for my iPhone. He turned it on, unlocked it, and started the YouTube app so that he could continue to watch "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse" clips in the car. Naturally I had to search for the clip, but I am amazed that he is aware of this resource portability.


On the iPhone at 2 years old


Until I owned a "cloud-enabled" phone, I was skeptical of the mobile revolution. Sure, I have recognized Generation Y as the text message generation, but until recently I hadn't seen the utility in being connected to cloud applications via a sensory-based platform. My 49 year old father-in-law once proclaimed to me that online shopping would never overtake physical retail shopping in overall revenues. Though I am sure people will still want to go to the grocery store to make sure their melons feel ripe, I'm not sure I believe that the shopping experience or buying decision process will look anything like it does today in 20 10 5 years. More and more, I use the cloud to make buying decisions. What's more, I find myself diving ever-deeper into my phone while I'm shopping in physical retail stores. Whether I'm doing price comparisons, or reading product reviews, or searching for similar products or services, I find that I'm more inclined to trust information found from reliable sources in the cloud than I am information found at a retailer's store. 

I wonder… how will cloud-connected customers affect eCommerce and vice-versa? More specifically, how will this affect,, and any other venture we decide to undertake? Well, in order for us to be able to make an impact in mobile, we have to know what success looks like in order to understand whether or not we can execute in an easy and scalable way. With this type of marketing in its infancy, how can we really measure this? 

I came across this article today, Search Giants Encounter Challenges in Mobile Ad Market.  In the article, Frank Reed discusses a company that starts off with mobile ad campaigns running on five mobile Internet networks. After only one day, the company pulled Google and Yahoo campaigns because they were not effective. Frank cites two reasons as the primary hurdles for behemoths like Google and Yahoo in the mobile ad market: "First, the ads that are run on their traditional platform don’t often translate or fit well in the mobile environment... Secondly, the position of the ads on a mobile device will not correspond to the ‘top of the page’ and ‘right hand column’ look that is now ingrained in everyone’s way of seeing and reacting to the ads." These seem like relatively easy problems for resource heavy organizations like Google and Yahoo to overcome over time. However, it's a good indicator to me that mobile advertising isn't mature (certainly not mature enough for a small business like ours to throw money at).

In order for us to be able to be effective in mobile, I think three things need to happen. First, testability. We need to be able to stare at an anticipated baseline of performance and easily test and measure performance. Second, match ad campaigns to targets. Mobile advertising seems like a moving target at this point. This seems pretty tough to do. Finally, figure out how to take advantage of the sensory aspect of today's mobility. Phones have eyes, ears, skin, they know where you are, they know where you've been, they know who your friends are... how do we leverage these to create an experience that leads a customer to buy?

No matter what happens, at this point, I'm pretty convinced that the way my son finds information and shops when he's my age will be very different than the way I do those things now. I can't wait to see what happens next.


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