Security concerns and limited usability can be obstacles to buying via smartphones. But consumers use their phones to get an overview of available products.

Jed Danbury

Jed Danbury, vice president at Computop Inc.

Given the pervasiveness of smartphones, it’s no surprise that mobile commerce has grown in recent years. However, while mobile commerce can imply that searching, selecting, ordering and paying is done solely on one smartphone, the actual customer journey is often much more complicated. 

A consumer can search for a product on a tablet while sitting in front of the TV. Or, the search result could be a suggestion from Alexa received when inquiring about prices on Amazon Marketplace. The shopper could purchase the product through a special offer sent by email and completed on a PC, or order it via mobile using click-and-collect and picked up in-store. Because 82% of internet users in the U.S. have used a mobile device to shop online according to Statista. The term for this trend should be “cross-device shopping.” And sometimes, the retailer might not even recognize the connections between each of these device channels, leaving them scratching their heads to meet the ever-evolving demands of consumers. 

Retailers rely on data to make their decisions, but when it comes to smartphones, a lot of this data is noise from which it is hard to filter actionable insight. For example, conversion statistics include page impressions from every tab the consumer opens when searching for a product. Even if a smartphone doesn’t have dozens of browser tabs open, the conversion rate is still half that of a PC. 

Why is this? Security concerns, coupled with the perceived limited usability that comes with using phones for shopping (e.g., issues with entering information, navigating, reading and comparing details on small screens), can be obstacles. However, these challenges don’t stop people from getting an initial overview of what’s available via their smartphone.  

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According to Comscore, while consumers spend 69% of their online time on mobile devices and only 31% on a PC, they still spend only one in five of their ecommerce dollars “mobile.” For 80% of sales, consumers do the checkout on a PC. So what can help consumers take the final step and complete their purchases via their smartphones while they are already engaged and ready?

App usage must grow

Apps developed specifically for Android and iOS are functionally superior to any website–but often only a retailer’s regular, loyal customers can be persuaded to install them. And developing and maintaining an app for perhaps 15% of your customer base is usually too costly for small and medium-sized merchants. That’s why software developers developed a hybrid—a kind of app that runs within the browser, known as “progressive web apps” (PWAs). The idea is to load the typical core elements of an app in the background when accessing a retailer’s website.

A PWA can change the shopping experience on the computer with the look and feel familiar from the app world. Ultimately, the separation between mobile and stationary use would be removed, creating a unified shopping experience. This means that the contents of a shopping basket remain stored on a retailer’s server—in the cloud from the consumer’s perspective—when the browser or tab is closed. When the customer returns, he can see at first glance that he still wanted to order something. 

Biometrics can reduce security issues

Security worries are now more easily managed due to the increasing use of biometric technology, which relies on fingerprint scanning and other methods to identify the customer and authorize the deduction of funds from their bank account. 

It’s also a lot easier for consumers to pay with a touch of their fingerprints or scans of their eye or face than to type out complex passwords on small screens. Consumers welcome convenience and speed—and retailers want to meet consumers’ desires—so it makes complete sense that biometrics would become a key component in driving payments via smartphones.  

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Smartphones can become universal wallets

There is much to be said for convergence of payment procedures online and at the point of sale—at least where it’s easy to make friction-free biometric payments via smartphones. If the smartphone develops into a universal digital wallet, synergy and network effects will emerge that could accelerate the change. Apple Pay and Google Pay are aiming precisely in this direction.

The extent and speed with which the mobile checkout is gaining ground remain debatable because of the many evolving parameters concerned. So, although payment still seems to be the sticking point for the dominance of smartphones in the commerce journey, change is happening, and I anticipate that many of the issues, as mentioned above, will no longer be a concern in the future. 

Computop Inc. offers payment processing and security services to retailers.

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