By Simon Horton

Mobile commerce is in vogue. Smartphones, tablets and other mobile technologies changed consumer behavior over the past few years. Consumers today are more knowledgeable and are actively seeking product information in detail, apart from looking for the best deal via mobile devices.

Merchants are also responding to this behavior through apps, mobile optimization and mobile responsive sites. But to gain a bigger voice in the world of m-commerce you need to go beyond these. There are technologies that offer greater value to create consumer experiences in order to engage and retain them; to leverage mobile commerce, you need to understand and incorporate them.

The Trends & Future of M-Commerce

According to a recent Gartner report, “U.S. customers’ mobile engagement behavior will drive mobile commerce revenue to 50 percent of U.S. digital commerce revenue” by 2017. The report further indicated that over $2 billion online shopping will be made exclusively by mobile digital assistants by the end of 2016.

The following are some of the m-commerce trends and findings borrowed from Mobile Commerce Outlook 2015 (PDF):

  • In the apparel and accessories sector in-store mobile payment is likely to more than double.
  • New native mobile apps will change automotive commerce.
  • Despite Apple Pay integration, banks and financial services are expected to push their own mobile wallets.
  • Books, music and video will leverage mobile for higher user engagement and retention
  • It is crucial for B2B entrepreneurs to provide omnichannel experiences.
  • Catalogers need to create comprehensive strategies that go beyond m-commerce.
  • Drugstores will be able to leverage mhealth surges.
  • Food and beverage businesses need to provide loyalty programs to customers within their mobile application.
  • Marketers will take advantage of the mobile wallet surge for influencing mobile shoppers.

Based on these reports and trends one thing is clear: small businesses that ignore m-commerce trend will quickly lose market share to bigger competitors.

The question is: how can a small business integrate an m-commerce strategy into the business?

What This Means for Small Businesses

Mobile commerce offers both windows of opportunities and challenges for small businesses. Let’s first talk about the challenges.

With mobile technology by their sides, modern consumers are becoming a major challenge for businesses. They have greater access and control over information, which influences their purchasing decisions. In fact, mobile gave them immediate access to any information they want.

Now, on the positive side, mobile consumers are more loyal to good value and user experience that they receive from a particular brand. Besides, businesses can better reach to their customers through the latter’s own device, which now serves as a direct communication channel between the business and the consumer. Small businesses therefore can offer consumers information transparency, convenience, unique shopping experiences and attractive offers by utilizing the mobile technology. It provides a rock-solid foundation to entrepreneurs to achieve their desirable business objective.

The real challenge for small businesses lies in competing with larger merchants. They have big budgets and resources to develop such technology-based initiatives; small businesses, on the other hand, often have budget constraints. So do small businesses have any chance to compete for mobile customers?

The answer is yes, which brings us to the how-part of it.

Tips for Leveraging M-Commerce

Use Geo-Location Technology: The Starbucks app is a great example of how you can use this technology to serve up coupons and special offers. When customers are near or passing by your physical store, this technology will send notifications about your present offers and events. It is a great way to remind customers about your businesses and products/services in real time.

You can use the geo-location technology to notify customers about valid offers or to remind them about loyalty rewards available to them. The number of mobile coupon users in the U.S. has significantly increased over the past few years, thanks to the rapid adoption of smartphones and tablets. In addition, we now have wearable technologies like Google Glass and Apple Watch, which are more likely to leverage this technology.

Design for Cross-Device: This is especially applicable for fashion industry. Customers today use multiple devices and have different set of expectations for each device when it comes to mobile shopping. Businesses therefore need to cater cross-device shoppers to survive the fierce competition.

Black Friday 2014 was a “Mobile Friday” in true sense as it accounted for 30.3 percent of the total online orders. It was also observed that context and personalization became best-practice tactics in 2014 and they will be even more crucial in 2015.

Add More Value to Your Offers: Your offers and customer services must attract in-store smartphone shoppers. Take advantage of technical support and warranties. For example, showrooming behaviour is a major concern for brick-and-mortar stores. To deal with it, you need to train your salespeople to be alert to such behaviour and also approach these new-generation buyers with appealing offers.

You can even leverage QR code technology to deliver content like user reviews, product description and comparisons, coupons and how-to videos. Additionally, you can combine in-store browsing with online purchasing and provide immediate in-store pick-up for those items.

Another option is to enhance their visualization experiences through technologies like augmented reality and image recognition (take examples from catalogers like Hammacher Schlemmer and IKEA).

Accepting Mobile Payments: Small businesses should aim to explore all payment options, including mobile payments. You can integrate your business with mobile payment solutions through mobile ATM transactions, loyalty programs and mobile wallet. The technology is nothing new but Apple Pay and Google Wallet made it one of the most-discussed topics of 2014. Mobile payment is a great tool to offer a quick and easy way for shoppers purchasing in both online and in-store.

The Bottom Line

Small businesses need to provide integrated services to make the most of their ecommerce and mobile commerce strategies. After all, the same mobile technology that allows consumers to shop smartly also helps businesses to create new, unique shopping experiences for their buyers, helping them build loyalty and a solid customer relationship.