Therapy that retails anytime, anywhere

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Therapy that retails anytime, anywhere

For Rita Singh, the long commute home from work is a blessing in disguise. The hour-long trip across Mumbai affords her the chance to do everything from plan a birthday party for a friend and send out invitations to restocking her grocery cupboards.

“If I lived closer to Nariman Point, I’d probably be able to make better use of the extra time at home, but I find catching up on the train to Kandivali is the best way to get things done,” the 35-year-old media professional says. “I can shop wherever I am. All I need is iPhone,” she exclaims.

Singh is one of a growing army of Indians running their lives from the virtual assistants that are their handheld communication devices. For customers like her, all her purchasing decisions now seem to come down to her smartphone.

For others, the introduction is slower, and comes by way of the large companies.
“It’s so easy to do all your gift shopping on the Blackberry. And best of all, the companies also deliver directly to the recipient,” says sales professional Mala R, who has discovered that the convenience of mobile commerce is a generation away from the time our mothers had different speed dial buttons set for the grocer, the butcher and the doodhwala.

“How my mother had the patience to buy gifts and then go to the post office and stand in line to parcel post things is beyond me,” she says.

It is people like Mala that companies such as eBay are rushing to reach out to as increased mobility and innovations, like the mobile wallet, redefine and transform the very nature of shopping.

This month the online retailer announced the expansion of its mobile commerce efforts with a new mobile web transaction platform for smartphones and a text-message-based price check application for phones.

“With these new mobile commerce offerings, eBay India is introducing new ways to shop and the opportunity to conveniently access a huge selection of products at any time, from anywhere,” Muralikrishnan B, Director of Product and Marketing, eBay India, said. “Payments can be securely made by phone.”

The new platform, m.ebay.in, is designed for any GPRS-,EDGE-, or 3G-enabled phone and provides an end-to-end transaction platform for consumers to find, buy and pay for products online, he said, adding that over 400,000 deals on products across the technology, lifestyle and media categories were available through its platform.

And it seems the trend only looks set to intensify. A recent worldwide Accenture survey found that 75 per cent of the “most active” mobile device users would welcome the chance to pay for goods and services using their handsets. The survey, which quizzed 1,100 people across 11 countries, also showed that on this front at least, the developing world (China stood at 76 per cent) is far ahead of the West – across the US and Europe combined, only 26 per cent of respondents said they favoured using mobile phones for most payments.

Andy Zimmerman, Accenture’s director for mobility services, argued everything from banking to supermarket loyalty schemes could be impacted by these trends.

“Mobile commerce  is poised to drive huge changes in the way we shop and pay for goods and services,” he said on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last month. “We can expect a convergence of traditional and alternative currencies, and it has huge implications on the entire in-store retail experience.”

Besides convenience, a key driver is the tremendous amount of deals available to online – and mobile – customers, and the ability for stores to customise them to users of smartphones (who, by implication, can afford or actively desire to make premium purchases because they’re willing to spend on fancy tech candy).

The survey showed that coupons and gift cards constituted a particularly effective means for marketers to engage shoppers – with 76 per cent of Indians (as compared to 64 per cent across Asia) saying they would make use of online offerings if they are sent directly to a phone.

More than half of all respondents said they would welcome receiving money-off promotions based on past purchases, while nearly half indicated they would respond to personalised mobile ads when they are within a few steps of the promoted product or service. With smartphones allowing users to be constantly connected, customers are happy to visit stores if they receive coupons from stores they’ve never been to. Over 75 per cent of respondents in the survey said they anticipated using such coupons at shops they had never been to.

‘Gimme more!’

Ravi Kumar, a 33-year-old marketing executive from Mumbai who describes himself as a digital native with a passion for anything trendy, says he often responds to Bluetooth adverts on his phone.

He says it is when he travels, as his job requires, that he makes the most use of the facility. In his downtime, he says, he simply heads to busy malls where he’s sure to be bombarded with at least a couple of such messages. “If it’s interesting, I’ll go and check them out. That way, you can often buy an interesting gift or a little souvenir of a trip.”

Firms such as eBay have taken another route: their team simply texts you when there are new deals on offer.

For an idea of where the trend is going, we need simply look at how many people in India now use mobile phones.

Global consulting firm McKinsey said that it expected mobile phone penetration in India to more than double over the next five years, from 30 per cent of the total population in 2009 to 61 per cent in 2015.

Not that there aren’t any dangers. In the study quoted, a whopping 70 per cent of all respondents thought that mobile commerce increased the risks of identity theft and the invasion of privacy.

So far, the convenience of being able to shop wherever you are overrides such concerns. But retailers must address and fix these issues if mobile commerce is to truly achieve the staggering numbers predicted.

Dare to compare

Perhaps the most wonderful thing about surfing the phone waves to get your retail fix is the fact that you can compare prices without moving a step.

Some customers such as marketing executive Ravi Kumar say they will only make a big-ticket purchase if they’re convinced they’re getting it at the best possible price.
“Even if I’m in a shop, I’ll quickly get online to see if anyone else has it cheaper. You can literally save thousands of rupees that way,” he says.

In India we’ve always loved a good deal – and it’s something we’re proud of.
The danger this presents for retailers is tremendous – shoppers can simply scan and scram. But as always, if it forces retailers to up their game, it will be the consumer who benefits in the end. And that, we know, is always good for business.

UC

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