The future of m-commerce

M-commerce has come a long way since the term was coined in 1997, but how will it change in future to meet customer expectations?

Man using mobile payments in front of a night background

Shopping on smartphones is on the rise, according to figures from Statista, with sales figures set to hit a whopping $3,56 trillion in 2021.

Some people may still prefer using their desktop PCs, or even shopping in person, but mobile commerce (m-commerce) is fast becoming the go-to method of retail, particularly given the decline of high street brands and the lockdown of the past year.

That said, the popularity of mobile shopping isn't increasing as many had expected. Research from ComScore of the three key days of US spending - Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday - found that desktops were still mainly used for online shopping.

The shift to m-commerce is perhaps more gradual than first thought, but it is increasing and developers and retailers are beginning to realise the need to tweak their services to meet the changing demands. As such, the future of m-commerce is still somewhat undefined and there may be a number of obstacles to hurdle before it becomes the preferred way to shop.

The challenges of m-commerce

A person online shopping on a mobile while also using a laptop

Retail purchases have been moving online at such an alarming rate that many of the UK's biggest brands had gone under long before the pandemic had even hit. Customers have been taken away from the high street by the convenience of online shopping and the likes of Amazon. The next step here is moving from desktop to mobile, which would seem like a logical phase considering more people own a smartphone than a laptop.

However, the experience offered on mobile is still somewhat inferior to the desktop. A lot of this is down to the size of the screen and the perspectives it offers. What's more, retailers often have the same site for both desktop and mobile, so the latter often has a poorly scaled image and certain navigation tools are harder to use.

Connectivity can also play a part, as although networks are far faster and more stable than they were five years ago thanks to the arrival of 4G and 5G, it's not always a certainty that you'll have a reliable connection. There's nothing worse than spending an hour picking the right item, only for your connection to drop as you go to the checkout. It's a frustrating experience that often results in users deciding to hold off on making the actual purchase until they're home.

Users are also generally less comfortable with the idea of entering payment details into a mobile device. Despite improvement to mobile OS security over the years, there's still a perception that mobile devices are less secure than their desktop counterparts.

Solutions to common m-commerce problems

A smartphone with a fingerprint scanner displayed on the screen

Smartphone manufacturers are already addressing many of these problems, introducing technologies to make transactions more secure, including fingerprint readers that protect devices from unauthorised access.

Retailers are starting to make the experience better too, by introducing apps that have been designed from the ground up to provide a more seamless experience compared to a mobile web store.

Additionally, social networks are making it easier to buy products without even leaving the apps and websites shoppers feel most comfortable using. Just hit the 'buy' button in Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and the transaction can be completed in a familiar environment.

One-click checkouts are also becoming more popular, meaning customers no longer have to enter all of their payment details with the fear someone's looking over their shoulder. Add into the mix OneTouch from PayPal, and it's giving customers even more peace of mind.

However, there's still some way to go before customers will happily scrap the desktop to shop online.

The future of m-commerce

Business woman using mobile payments and online shopping on a virtual screen

By 2026, providing a fast experience will be vital for a retailer's success, according to Ovum. This applies if they are providing an experience on desktop or mobile. Whatever a customer is doing, they'll be able to purchase something instantly and know that it will be on the way to their office or home as soon as they click the "confirm" button.

Furthermore, this also applies to the way in which a customer expects their items to be physically shipped to them. Due to the rise of schemes like Amazon Prime, customers expect items to be shipped and delivered the next day at the very least, with some businesses like Argos offering same-day delivery. Obviously, as the e-commerce sector expands and digitalises, this will become increasingly important.

Similar to other sectors, customers now expect their shopping experience to be increasingly relevant to their lives, which means AI and data analysis will become an essential aspect of m-commerce. Recommendations and suggestions will be a crucial tool for retailers, allowing them to combine friend recommendations, social media activity, and previous searches to tailor the experience to them, whether they are using the store online through a web browser or an app.

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To become more secure, payments will also have to adapt. It is probable that we will see retailers experiment more with authentication, which could be in the form of biometric methods, two-factor authentication or relying on third parties like PayPal to securely process the transaction.

M-commerce is set to provide great opportunities for retailers and increase revenues in the coming years, but the customer experience will be increasingly valued as well, so this should be at the centre of every retailer's business plan – physical store or not.

Although m-commerce is often accused of 'killing off' the high street, it doesn't have to be so. In fact, in-app transactions can be used to streamline the physical retail experience by minimising till queues and therefore making the shopping experience more enjoyable and less time-consuming. An example of such are the Amazon Fresh stores, which are till-less, cashless supermarkets where customers pay using the standard Amazon shopping app. Upon entrance, shoppers have to scan an individual QR code displayed on their mobile phone screen. Then, they are allowed to pick up any items they need and simply exit the store. The payment is then taken off the shopper's card linked to their Amazon account, with the transaction taking between four minutes to an hour to process, and a receipt is sent to their email inbox.

This futuristic shopping experience is enabled using depth- and motion sensors which hang from the ceiling from the store, monitoring what item is chosen, how many pieces, for how much, and whether shoppers decide to bag it and walk out with it, or maybe place it back on the shelf.

By combining the benefits or m-commerce and in-store shopping alike, the Amazon Fresh stores proved to be a sanitised alternative to standard supermarket trips. By eliminating cash transactions and long checkout queues, the experience is suited to pandemic needs, allowing users to observe social distancing while also minimising the time spent in an indoor public space. Since the first London Amazon Fresh store was unveiled in March 2021, the tech giant has opened four more supermarkets in the UK capital.

Ensuring experiences are relevant, fast and secure are three trends that should resonate with anyone going into m-commerce, no matter what sector their retail business falls into.

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