What is m-commerce?

Learn what mobile commerce is and how you can take advantage of it

M-commerce, or mobile commerce to give the acronym its full name refers to the use of mobile phones as a retail channel. In fact, mobiles are used for more than three-quarters of web searches worldwide and is fast becoming the hottest sales channel. In Asia Pacific, for example, half of all sales during 2018 were completed using a mobile phone and the UK is catching up.

If you're a retailer, it's time to take the opportunities of m-commerce seriously, whether that's accepting mobile payments, such as those offered by Apple Pay and Android Pay, offering clients the ability to download virtual products such as music or services, or physical goods shipped to an address.

M-commerce isn't limited to just selling products using a mobile website, for example, but a whole range of mobile technologies to make a purchase, including PayPal or another payment gateway, such as Stripe, Square or World Pay.

As discussed above, it can also include using a mobile phone in person to complete a payment in-store, such as Apple Pay and Android Pay that can be used by just tapping a mobile device on a wireless terminal.

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To take advantage of the opportunities m-commerce provides, any website you're using for sales must be optimised for mobile, with large buttons, a seamless purchasing experience and the ability to browse and buy without hiccups. If customers aren't able to do this, you may find the traffic to your website reduces significantly.

This means making sure how people navigate around your site, adds products to their basket and goes through all stages of the checkout process renders properly using a mobile phone.

The rise of m-commerce

The concept of using mobiles to shop was first coined as m-commerce in 1997, with its definition stated as, "the delivery of electronic commerce capabilities directly into the consumer's hand, anywhere, via wireless technology", but the use of mobile devices as a way to make smarter purchase decisions and make payments has evolved substantially since then.

A decade ago, few would have thought that we could pay for products via our smartphones through the use of mobile payments technology, or use apps to order our weekly shopping on the bus home with web speeds nearly as good as our home broadband.

In the last few years, m-commerce has grown substantially. At the beginning of the year, eMarketer revealed m-commerce accounted for 6% of global total retail sales and nearly 60% of e-commerce. This is following a 40% year-on-year increase of the technology in 2017. Global m-commerce sales increased by 40.3% year-on-year in 2017, totalling $1.357 trillion (980 billion) and making up 6.0% of total retail sales.

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"A greater dependence on mobile devices, namely smartphones, is having a positive effect on retail m-commerce sales globally," said Monica Peart, eMarketer's senior forecasting director. "This trend is evident in more frequent mobile shopping sessions and higher spends per session, both hallmarks of a growing expectation for mobile devices to satisfy a variety of consumer shopping needs."

Web-based m-commerce

M-commerce has made it vital for all companies to have mobile-responsive websites that adapt automatically to the size of the screen, allowing mobile experiences to exist alongside a desktop shopping experience.

Smartphones and tablets accounted for 69% of UK online retail sales in Q3 of 2017/2018 (November 2017 to January 2018), according to UK online retail association IMRG's IMRG Capgemini Quarterly Benchmarking report.

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App-based m-commerce

More and more these days, retailers rely on mobile apps to reach customers, replicating the experience of being inside their store for people when they're waiting for trains, eating their lunch or at other idle time. Often when a customer visits a retailer's website via their smartphone, the retailer will redirect them to their app store so they can download the app.

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Retailers seem to be getting it right: commerce marketing firm Criteo found that mobile apps perform far better than both desktop and mobile websites when it comes to pushing customers to purchase something, boasting a better conversion rate than the others. This reflects the richer and more personalised shopping experience retailers are bringing customers via apps.

M-commerce is definitely a growing part of retail, but it's important that retailers meet and surpass customers' expectations of their digital shopping experiences. This means providing them with a quick responsive interface that is personalised to their tastes, as well as embracing other technology to make it easier to find and pay for products, such as mobile payments, while alleviating any security concerns customers may have.

Image: Bigstock

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