Understanding Mobile Platforms

Understanding Mobile Platforms


‘Mobile’ is the new techie buzzword. But is investment and innovation overriding the awareness and demand in the mobile commerce space? Possibly so. However, there is little denying the fact that the online commerce world is progressing to a mobile platform faster than we are.

Mobile commerce was always going to be the next step towards making online shopping easier for the consumer. We have the technology available to us right now. Almost everyone has a phone that can access the web. In fact, look at the general census for South Africa, and you’ll come to realise we are pretty much up to date when it comes to mobile devices.

A recent US-based survey polled 18 to 64 year old Americans who consider themselves mobile shoppers. In this context, ‘mobile shopper’ is loosely defined as anyone who uses a phone, including a maps application, to aid with shopping.

Of the 800 people surveyed, 660 were smartphone owners. The remaining 140 were feature phone owners – a feature phone being not quite up to smartphone spec, but capable of internet, or WAP connectivity. 230 participants also owned a tablet.

The findings were as follows:

Mobile purchases are on the rise. 47% of smartphone owners and 56% of tablet owners plan to purchase more products on their respective devices in the future. Roughly half of smartphone and tablet users believe there are benefits to shopping on a mobile device, a number that would likely be higher if users found mobile apps and websites easier to use.

Virtual wallets are catching on. A full 20% of smartphone owners have used their devices as a virtual wallet and 28% expect to do so more in the future. A quarter of tablet owners, by far the most willing to experiment with new technologies, have used their tablets as a virtual wallet in stores. 39% plan to do so more in the future.

Mobile coupons and barcodes are catching on even quicker. Although virtual wallets usage is increasing, 56% of smartphone and tablet owners expect to increase their use of mobile devices to look up information about a product or use a coupon. Nearly half of smartphone and tablet owners also said they planned to scan barcodes more often to get additional information or additional discounts on a product. This suggests that barcode scanning might indeed be poised to hit the mainstream in the next few years. It is already being introduced in South Africa, but its true potential remains unexplored.

Data security and user experience remain the two biggest barriers. Worries about security of personal and financial details might be preventing many from embracing mobile commerce fully. More than 60% of both of smartphone and tablet owners said they believe it is not safe to share those details on their mobile devices, underlining a need for education about security issues. Furthermore, 54% of smartphone users and 61% of tablet users said they find mobile applications and websites ineffective and difficult to use, further discouraging purchasing on those devices.

Devices dictating behaviour. One-third of smartphone owners use their devices to make mobile purchases, while less than 10% of feature phone owners make purchases with theirs. Tablet owners are even more poised to make a mobile purchase, or research a product online. The reason is simple- ease of use. With their bigger screens, better equipped cameras and easier to operate Symbian technologies, browsing a website or engaging a barcode is obviously easier.

For mobile commerce to be fully adopted as a viable means to trade in South Africa, energy needs to be invested into educating mobile users of its benefits. But in the same breath, unless vendors smarten up to the idea of going online, mobile will remain a buzzword.

Shane Oosthuizen
Shane Oosthuizen is currently the chief copywriter at one of SA's leading digital agencies. Having spent a number of years in the creative arena, he has forged a reputable authority in the South African social and online marketing community.