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M-Commerce: Wireless Commerce Is Coming

Ready or not, the wireless masses are coming. Armed with every kind of Net-ready device, millions of consumers will soon be demanding wireless access to your e-business. Shut them out and they'll turn to your nearest wireless competitor as fast as you can say "Out of business."

Consumers are already using their mobile phones for a variety of mobile e-commerce services. It even has a name—c-commerce, for "cell commerce." Consumers are using their phones for banking, stock quotes, ordering movie and train tickets, and buying from vending machines. Though consumers in the U.S. use only some of these services, the rest of the world—especially Europe and Asia—see their phones as the preferred medium of getting information, making transactions, and checking on the status of their affairs.

The craze for Net appliances doesn't stop at the cell phone. Virgin Entertainment distributed 10,000 Virgin-branded Web players to qualified consumers who can use them to buy CDs and videos from Virgin's online store. America Online and Gateway Computers are working on a Net appliance that will provide "Instant AOL" access.

But c-commerce is only the tip of the iceberg. Hot on its heals is m-commerce or "mobile commerce." M-commerce consists of selling anything over a mobile wireless device or Net appliance. IDC predicts that Net appliances—including Internet gaming consoles, Net TVs, handheld devices, and Web and email terminals and screen phones—will surpass U.S. shipments of personal computers by 2002. They forecast that the Net appliance market will grow to 89 million units or $17.8 billion in 2004—up from 11 million units or $2.4 billion in 1999. But of the 500 million m-commerce users in the year 2005, only 22% will be in North America. Western Europe and Asia will make up almost two-thirds of the usage. That means your e-business must not only provide a seamless way for your customers to access your offers over a range of mobile Net appliances, but also be ready to sell to a global international market. As consumers and business customers make the shift from wired to wireless Net access, your e-business marketing strategy will need to make some profound shifts as well.

The good news of m-commerce is that your e-business will have access to a much wider customer base over a large geographical area. But the job of organizing, managing, and targeting your content or transaction to different market segments using different Net appliances is going to be much more challenging. Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) is attempting to standardize access to the Net through any and all wireless devices. Your e-business can't ignore WAP if you want to reach your target customer base. Your customers around the world will expect to have a seamless interface to your content and perform transactions from whichever wireless appliance they use.

GeePS.com provides a wireless shopping portal. By 2002, there'll be 1 million WAP phones in use, and GeePS.com plans to capitalize on it. While driving, strolling, or shopping, merchants can pinpoint your location and present offers to you as you pass by their establishment. If you walk past the Gap, for instance, your cell phone or Palm Pilot could provide a discount offer from the Gap. This pinpoint targeting is the result of the FCC 911 mandate (in place by October 2001) that all wireless devices must be able to pinpoint your location within 100 yards.

M-Commerce Marketing Essentials

Within just a year or two, your customers will prefer to interact with your company via both wireless and wired Net appliances. Your challenge will be providing and maintaining content and transaction management through all these points of contact. Here are some m-commerce essentials to keep in mind.

  • Plan for multiple touch points. As the world moves toward wireless, your marketing strategy must be designed for multiple touch points. Consumers are not using just Netscape or IE to access the Web any more. More and more are accessing the Net through their Palm Pilots, Web TV, cell phones—even their Sega Dreamcasts and Sony Playstations. Sega and Sony game consoles? That's right. Jupiter Communications predicts that in 2003 Net-enabled video game consoles will surpass 16 million units in the U.S. alone.

    Presenting your company content and offers through a Web site, WAP-enabled wireless Net devices, cell phones, game consoles, and interactive TV is enough of a complex task. But tomorrow there may be three times that many Net appliances to market your message. You'll have to code and re-purpose your information differently for each platform.

  • Plan for interactive marketing. Think about our friend Bob. While he's on your site, reserving a table at your restaurant or your Gourmet Meals on Wheels service, what additional products or service can you sell him? Flowers for his wife at his restaurant table? Or maybe a nice bottle of wine to go with the delivered meal? If he won't take the up-sell offer then and there, inform him that he has a discount coupon waiting for him at your Web site. These are simple up-selling techniques.

    But suppose you wanted to present a more sophisticated offer? Maybe some other investment alternative to the stock he bought. For that, you need to know more about Bob than just this one transaction. You need to have formed a relationship with him over many transactions in which your company has built a profile of his preferences. This is the payoff of a good customer-relationship marketing program.

  • Plan for different languages and cultures. If you're going to market to a global audience, you'll need to do it in their language and be sensitive to cultural differences. Your content and product offerings must take into account local customs and be perceptive to the differences between theirs and yours. Italian and Japanese consumers will want to perform tasks differently.

  • Plan for different laws and tariffs. What's considered a final price in one country may not be final in another. If you're selling globally, your company needs to know the various duties, taxes, and shipping fees for different countries.

It's going to be a multi-touch point, multilingual, multicultural world. Prepare for it.

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