Browsers, bots and unlocking mobile e-commerce

By November 16, 2016Ecommerce, Mobile

As the world becomes increasingly mobile centric, we still don’t have a great solution for long tail e-commerce. Smartphones now work amazingly well for Amazon and categories where we buy regularly enough to be bothered to download an app – but that’s fairly limited. In my case it’s limited to Uber, Hailo, Netflix, Spotify, Fy (one of our partner companies) and an app that lets me pay for parking on the streets of Islington where I live. You could maybe include the British Airways app as well, although I use that for checking in rather than buying flights. The point is, that’s a short list, and two of them are subscription services rather than e-commerce apps.

That leaves huge categories that don’t yet have a mobile solution for the mass market – fashion, travel, homewares, non-supermarket food etc. There are apps in all these categories, but they don’t get downloaded that often because we don’t want to clutter our phones up with apps we only use occasionally.

So if native apps aren’t the solution for long tail mobile commerce then we are left with a few other possibilities:

  • mobile browsers
  • bots
  • an instant app experience which gives us app functionality without downloading anything

The second and third categories are where everybody is pinning their hopes right now (and it’s WeChat’s recent announcement about their small programmes that got me thinking about this again), but the challenge with these are search, discovery and UI. It’s long tail ecommerce we’re talking about here, so we need a search experience that’s open to any retailer in the way that Google is, and then when you get to their site the purchase experience must be smooth – it’s not clear how that will work. The promise of bots and WeChat’s small programmes is that they will hold our personal information enabling efficient checkout. That makes a lot of sense, but most of the solutions we have seen so far require the user to learn a set of commands and I can’t see that working for many people.

Meanwhile anecdotally it seems that mobile browsers are slowly offering a stronger buying experience. Retailers sites are increasingly better optimised for mobile and browsers’ auto-fill and credit card storage features are working better, and that’s before Apple pay really gets going.

Moreover, as you can see from the chart below, m-commerce is growing much faster than e-commerce. Much of that growth is within apps, but not all (I couldn’t find stats that broke out browser based m-commerce and app based m-commerce) and that suggests to me that the humble mobile browser might be the final answer for long tail ecommerce merchants after all.

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  • http://www.philipwilkinson.co Philip Wilkinson

    Nick – bit confused. You say “most of that growth is within apps” (is that true?) yet you say that the mobile browser is the future for long-term commerce. Seems conflicting or have I interpreted it wrong?

    I used to be a huge fan of native mobile apps for e-commerce but now I believe they are best used when a merchant has their own loyal base who will take the time to download and engage it with regularly.

    The fact is that most shopping discovery (outside of Amazon) is done via Google and ends up on a merchant site.