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Q&A: The tipping point in mobile commerce

Mobile payments continue to reach new heights. The smartphone wars have started over digital wallets; in 2015 nearly half of Google search traffic came from mobile devices and in-messenger purchases were the topic du jour of Facebook’s developer conference.

But despite the fact that mobile use and distribution are accelerating toward around ten times the scale of the desktop, online shopping is still largely built with a desktop mentality in mind.

Adults spend 51 per cent of their time on mobile platforms and it now accounts for 50.3 per cent of all ecommerce traffic, yet conversion still remains drastically lower than on desktop. I spoke to Harper Reed, head of commerce at Braintree, the ex-CTO of the Obama campaign and CEO of Modest (recently acquired by PayPal), about why this is.

We hear a lot about how ecommerce, social media, mobility and Millennials have changed retailing – what do you think has been the biggest change of the last ten years?

The world has become a smaller place over the past ten years. There are no borders on the internet, no opening hours. Mobile has made digital payments and access to financial services possible for a new and larger population of previously unconnected individuals.

For me the biggest change has been in attitude. There’s now this expectation that buying is something we do on our terms. We don’t wait for the bank to open, or confine our purchases to business hours, we don’t shop in the stores that happen to be in our town. It’s not totally accurate to attribute that behaviour just to Millennials – folk either side of that generational chunk are making the same moves.

Mobiles have been the biggest part of that change. We’ve got the world in our back pocket and that kind of ease and ‘always on’ connectivity has set the bar for every other experience.

These have been about for a while now, do you think merchants are making the right moves to adapt?

Some merchants seem to understand exactly how consumers are wired – building slick experiences that match up exactly to how we behave. But despite smartphones being part of the furniture, I’m always shocked by how often mobile commerce sucks.

Retail experience begins and ends on mobile these days. From the initial moment of discovery on social or email to the moment you decide to make payment, and even how the transaction continues post-purchase, like an Instagram post of your new buy. Retailers need to make sure they’re dismantling every barrier that curbs convenience, trust and sharing.

Mobile should be as simple as possible – reducing the number of clicks, swipes and above all the typing anyone has to do. The best make sure they take what they already know about their customer – syncing accounts with other channels to make sure they don’t have to laboriously retype details and personalising to make the most of that tiny screen.

How should they determine what to focus on?

It’s a no-brainer but it starts with understanding your customer and testing, testing, testing. You develop in a vacuum and it’s not until customers start using, breaking, enjoying or ignoring your service that you really know what works and what doesn’t. It’s so important to be able to quickly adapt your apps, sites and channels to new customer behaviours, new markets you never thought you’d be popular in or even new technologies and standards that emerge.

The pace of change in payments is breakneck. So we’ve built to stand the test of time - any future feature updates will be simple to add so businesses always have easy access to the best-in-class platform and latest features.

Mobile is now dominant for ecommerce traffic, yet conversion still remains drastically lower than on desktop. So why is the mobile experience still so poor?

It’s just littered with obstacles at this point in time. A lot of merchants are still trying to squeeze their entire online store down to fit onto a mobile, instead of thinking about the behaviours that are actually important when a consumer is using his or her mobile. 93 per cent of people who use mobile to research go on to complete a purchase of a product or service – we need to make it easy to convert that intent on mobile.

Say you’re on a bus trying to buy something, you don’t want to tap in your credit card details whilst someone peers over your shoulder. Or you’ve searched for an item, you don’t want to have to go through ten different pages to finally buy it. Or say you’re price checking in a store – if that was synced up with instore systems a conversion could be an SMS message away.

What’s the most important thing for an m-commerce user experience?

You have to remember that mobile isn’t just another channel to appear on. It’s an entire platform or ecosystem with numerous channels within it. Consumers using mobile bring a completely different set of expectations and behaviours and they also use it in thousands of different ways.

Simplicity is the cardinal rule. By tapping into the behaviours, motivations and expectations that accompany the ‘in the moment’ nature of mobile use, it presents an opportunity for real loyalty. With this behavioural understanding you can pre-empt a need, and avoid the ‘why doesn’t it just work’ frustration. This is stuff like one touch check out, securely syncing payment details across mobile channels and giving customers the chance to buy or pay however they like – whether that’s Apple Pay, BitCoin or different currencies.

I spotted the work Braintree is doing with Facebook and Uber to facilitate in-message payments, is chat the future of mobile payments?

As consumers spend more time engaging inside social and messaging apps, connecting merchants and consumers directly within those experiences is a massive opportunity, particularly on mobile devices. This is the essence of contextual commerce. Give the user the opportunity to make a purchase when their intent matches.

The pace of change in payment innovation is constant but in-experience and context aware routes to buy are absolutely the future. This will change everything.

Image Credit: Slavoljub Pantelic / Shutterstock

Desire worked at ITProPortal right at the beginning and was instrumental in turning it into the leading publication we all know and love today. He then moved on to be the Editor of TechRadarPro - a position he still holds - and has recently been reunited with ITProPortal since Future Publishing's acquisition of Net Communities.