For an increasingly large number of Indians, cellphones are the first daily touch point to the Internet
When the question arises on what is the great technology equaliser in India, an argument can be made for mobile phones. Everyone has it, right from the CEO to the daily wage earner, the grandfather to the teenage daughter.
For an e-commerce company to keep pace with market trends, the mobile phone has become an important conduit. Mobile commerce today is a platform to take e-commerce to the masses, something that works for everyone.
So what does the mobile phone space have anything to do with e-commerce? The answer: everything.
Given the unique proliferation of mobile phones in India, an increasingly large number of Indians are turning to mobile phones as their first daily touch point to the Internet. In a lot of cases, the number of users of mobile devices is growing faster than web traffic. As technology improvements lead to even cheaper mobile devices, (a smartphone now starts at Rs. 1,500 while the cheapest tablets start at Rs. 3000), this trend is set to move even faster.
App or mobile web?
When marching on the path to mobile commerce, companies inevitably have to choose between taking an app approach or a mobile-oriented website approach. It is important to note that both have their pros and cons.
The mobile approach typically is faster to roll out, given that it relies on standard web technologies and needs relatively little device-oriented customisations. The app approach on the other hand is more tedious to develop and often needs to be customised for every platform in order to give optimum experience. But the effort pays rich dividends, given that fairly unique opportunities open up in terms of responsiveness as well as utilising the native features of the device.
Studies also reveal that app users tend to be more committed and engaged than the casual mobile web browser, possibly a reflection of the fact that they have to cross a higher threshold of inertia to install an app.
In our experience, app users tend to spend 40 per cent more time on the website than our mobile web users. Most organisations start out with a mobile web presence to minimise the time to market, and learn from that experience to draw out a more comprehensive roadmap for an app launch.
Mobile devices open up unique opportunities for e-commerce companies. Personalised communication and content take on a whole new meaning when you consider the fact that mobile devices, unlike a PC, are inherently personal in nature. This is already getting reflected in the use of NFC technology in mobile devices to make payments. Another advantage is the now prevalent push mechanism such as notifications on Apple devices.
Unlike in the older days when one had to rely on a user visiting the website, an e-commerce organisation can now engage in on-the-fly engagement with the user, utilising the push messaging techniques.
For example, imagine being notified about a price drop, or the market availability of a product that you subscribed to. It can be done. Delivery notifications? No problem.
The mobile arena is seeing its highest-ever rate of innovation, with new features emerging every few months, be it the latest in haptic feedback or flexible OLED screens. This provides an immensely rich base for e-commerce companies to innovate on, and to provide a great engaging experience to its customers.
India’s e-commerce story is taking shape at a very unique time: right at the moment when consumers are going through a fundamental shift in their primary channel of Internet access. E-commerce companies who realise this, act on, as well as adapt to this irreversible trend are the only ones that will be visible in the consumer’s eye.
(The author is Senior Vice-President and Head, Engineering, Flipkart)