American Marketer


Is your product information mobile-ready?

March 15, 2011

Robert Lewis is cofounder and president of Enterworks


By Robert Lewis

Mobile commerce can be a powerful channel for sales and marketing success or a fast track to frustration. What makes the difference? Sound product information.

A story in a December issue of Mobile Commerce Daily reported on a survey by ABI Research. The results stated that U.S. mobile commerce sales would top $3.4 billion by the end of the year.

The continued growth of smartphones is accelerating this trend. ABI also found that nearly half of smartphone users were already using or would soon use their phones to do mobile shopping.

Nielsen Co. estimates smartphones account for more than a quarter of the U.S. mobile market. By the end of 2011, they predict smartphones will overtake basic mobile phones.


You may be technically prepared for this mobile revolution. You may have a mobile-optimized Web site or a mobile commerce application. Your ordering systems and back-end applications may be tweaked to support mobile transactions.

But none of that matters if your product information is not “mobile-ready” – if it is not complete, current and correct.

That is because, as research firm IDC points out, mobile commerce does not just enable customers to buy goods while on the go. It also empowers them to search for price and product information, check merchandise availability, compare prices at nearby stores and browse product reviews.

Armed with that knowledge, customers can make rapid and fully informed buying decisions that may or may not include your offerings.

IDC uses the term “omnichannel consumer” to express this dynamic.

Mobile consumers are less likely to think of their purchasing options – in-store, online or catalog – as discrete, separate channels.

Rather, all these channels combine with mobile to perpetually immerse the customer in a seamless environment of opportunities to buy.

This omnichannel dynamic is being compounded by the expanding popularity of social media, which serves to accelerate the spread of information among consumers.

In another Mobile Commerce Daily article, Unity Mobile CEO Daniel West described the power of social media for enabling consumers to share product reviews and get information on goods and services.

Mr. West cited this power as a key reason social media should be part of a mobile merchandising strategy.

Together, mobile and social commerce are making it more important than ever for retailers, dealers, and distributors to ensure that they are offering sound product information in all media and channels.

Three lessons clearly emerge for mobile marketers in both consumer and business markets:

1. Your customers have your product information with them wherever they are, and everywhere they go

In the years B.S. (Before Smartphones), your marketing content was embedded in discrete “containers”: catalogs, mailers, Web pages and brochures.

Your customers read the content in these containers in various places and contexts: at the office, in their living room, during their commute, on their desktop or laptop computer.

These customers had portions of your product information in various places at different times, but they did not have all of it in one place at every moment.

Today, your customers literally carry your product information around with them in their pocket, handbag, briefcase or toolbox. They have your information, and that of your competitors, wherever they are.

These consumers have instant access to that information from a variety of sources: from your Web site, mobile app, catalog PDFs, emailers, Facebook page and Twitter feed.

And do not forget their own personal social media feeds.

A Click Z social networking study found that 81 percent of respondents said they had received advice about a product purchase from friends and followers through a social site.

All of which makes it critical to have accurate, consistent product information in all channels. Because ...

2. Your customer assumes your product information will be correct wherever she sees it

The mobile-empowered consumer no longer thinks of your catalog, Web site, mailers and in-store collateral as being different sets of information.

The customer’s mentality today is a Zen-like – “your product information is your product information.” They assume it will be the same wherever they see it.

At one time you might have been able to smooth-talk a customer in your store who wants to know why the price she saw on her computer back home is different from the price on the shelf.

But in the omnichannel world, your customers can hold their smartphone under your nose and demand – and deserve – an explanation for that disconnect.

In that moment of real-time embarrassment, any tap-dancing or jargon-filled explanation about lag times or inconsistencies among your systems would sound pretty lame.

Such an experience risks earning your customers’ hard feelings – and risks them updating their friends and followers about it right on the spot.

Which can be a problem, because ...

3. Mobile commerce gives your customer options -- and the power to exercise them

Opportunities to buy online are no longer restricted to the times your customer might be in front of a desktop or laptop computer. They can make purchases pretty much any time they have their hands free to use their mobile device.

Mobile commerce even empowers your customers in the bricks-and-mortar realm. They can cover a lot of ground in a shopping mall or retail district.

With a smartphone or even a tablet device, consumers can read user reviews, check product availability and look for nearby bargains throughout their excursion.

If a customer is in your store but browsing your competitor’s Web site on her smartphone, is she truly “in your store”?

That is also increasingly true for business-to-business customers such as contractors, who, with just a few keystrokes can find substitute goods and the most competitive pricing from a variety of suppliers while at their job site or in their service vehicle.

MOBILE COMMERCE and social media are combining to empower consumer and business customers as never before. They can also empower retailers and distributors, too.

Marketers in all industries can leverage these same technologies for real-time marketing, faster sales and better customer service.

But to ensure success, a key element in marketers’ mobile commerce strategies must be sound product information consistently used in all media and channels.

Robert Lewis is cofounder and president of Enterworks Inc., Sterling, VA. Reach him at