By Dale S. Laszig
Castles Technology Co. Ltd.
There's a theorem in quantum physics that the observer affects the observed. That's certainly true for the mobile Web, a shape-shifting phenomenon that's changing our world. Each end user has a ripple effect on the mobile Internet and its always-on, always-connected community. Even die-hard laggards have been dragged into the mobile age, in which access to friends, colleagues, e-mail, Internet search and social networking is only a click away.
The next big thing for merchant level salespeople (MLSs) is to start viewing the mobile Web as a profit center. Following are 10 top trends in mobile computing that can help merchants create unique mobility strategies to stay connected with customers.
Rising popularity and falling prices are helping mobile payments go mainstream. Merchants can choose to process payments on portable credit card terminals, smart phones or laptops paired with card reader peripherals that communicate via cellular networks or Wi-Fi. Even brick-and-mortar merchants occasionally travel or attend tradeshows. These portable and cost-effective solutions can be taken along on business trips to securely manage cardholder data, expedite settlement and deliver lower card-present discount rates.
The ability to transfer money and make payments from mobile devices offers hope to a global population of unbanked and underbanked consumers. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation committed $12.5 million to fund mobile banking in the developing world. The Financial Services for the Poor Initiative is a far-reaching plan to make microfinance and savings accounts widely available, and a call-to-action for payments industry professionals.
"We believe this is a historic opportunity to make financial services accessible to billions of people in the developing world," the foundation's Web site states. "New technologies and innovative partnerships make it possible to create a 'next-generation' banking system. Working together with banks, governments, mobile phone companies, retail store chains, and others, we believe it is possible to deliver quality savings accounts and other financial services to the doorsteps of the poor." (Visit www.gatesfoundation.org for more details.)
Customer relationship management (CRM) began years ago when companies attempted to understand customer buying habits and preferences. Today's CRM is a nuanced and interactive relationship, controlled more by consumers than the businesses they patronize. These days an opt-in message on a mobile phone can lead to an impulse buy, and customized alerts keep consumers aware of bank balances and sales.
Just as films are restructured for DVDs, corporate Web sites are provisioned for the mobile Web, with automatic mobile versions that can be read on a number of hardware platforms, including the Research in Motion BlackBerry, Google Inc. Android and Apple Inc. iPhone product lines. Mobile Web sites need to be clear, attractive and easy to navigate on small screens.
An increase in unlimited text plans offered by wireless carriers has accelerated short message service (SMS) usage, not just by teenagers but across the entire demographic spectrum. Businesses have found innovative uses for text messaging, such as over-credit-limit and payment-due alerts, event reminders, polling and opt-in messages for customers who would like to be notified about specific promotions.
Enterprise SMS solutions help businesses stay connected with their remote workers and customers through programmable, customized broadcast messages. Programs offered by third-party providers enable administrators to download entire databases into smart phones, forward responses to e-mail addresses, and use additional tools to manage data and trend analysis.
Now that we're using our phones to check e-mail, doesn't it make sense for companies to increase the frequency and variety of targeted e-mail promotions? It's a great way to stay in front of customers while continuing to build brand value. E-mail is less invasive than telemarketing. It also has a better chance of reaching its target audience by virtue of reaching consumers however they happen to be logged on, whether via smart phones or desktop or laptop computers.
Coupons are hot again, thanks to the recession. Books on how to leverage coupons are making best-seller lists, and we're seeing increased usage across the board. The latest trends are opt-in coupons with instant savings and rebates, and rich media coupons on smart phones with bar codes read by POS scanners. Merchants like mobile coupons because they can be tracked, making it easier to analyze the success of promotions.
The increasing popularity of social networks in all sectors is driving demand for mobile access. Facebook, MocoSpace and foursquare lead the pack in mobile social media applications. The primary functions of social media - exchanging information, sharing content, forwarding links, and managing network referrals and invitations - can be easily done on mobile devices.
Most major companies recognize the value of advertising on the top three search engines: Google, Yahoo and Bing. Mobile searchers usually have a greater sense of urgency than their stationary online counterparts, presumably due to an immediate need for the product or service they seek.
Advanced forms of mobile search utilize global positioning satellite technology to offer proximity-based search results.
Remember the Sony Watchman? A tiny handheld portable television set enabled viewers to watch TV from anywhere. Advanced Internet technology has given us so many more sources of on-the-go video content. Consumers can create and send their own mobile videos, contributing content to a broad range of media, including network news.
Mobile video technology is emerging. Expect to see more variety and quality as videos are specifically designed for viewing on smaller screens. Advertising is a natural add-on in this space, as retailers compete to promote and sponsor a range of local, national, free and pay-per-view events.
Connecting in real-time is the defining element of today's consumer-centric environment. Web sites alone will not do the job. It's time for MLSs to join the expanding mobile Web community and turn some of those ripples into waves.
Dale S. Laszig is Vice President of Sales in the United States for Castles Technology Co. Ltd., a manufacturer and global provider of smart card, contactless and POS solutions. She can be reached at 973-930-0331 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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