August 22, 2012

Guest comment: You don’t need a mobile strategy

Stefan Schmidt, Director of Product Strategy at hybris explaines why Mobile might be in the forefront of your mind but just catering for it could easily steer you into a dead end. What you actually need is a commerce-anywhere strategy, which will allow you to enable commerce on any internet device without spending lots of time and money every time a new internet-enabled device emerges.

It’s a common misconception that tablets and mobiles, not to mention other internet-enabled devices, eg TV’s, are a disrupting force. The disruption has already happened:
1.       The internet is virtually available everywhere – we are always on! We call it the cloud today.
2.       Bandwidth and infrastructure are good enough to deliver a good experience everywhere we go
3.       Computers have become mobile and can be virtually built into any device.

The secret is to stop worrying about online, offline, mobile, tablet, etc. and understand that your business is operating in a virtual world spanning all these outlets. Terms such as multichannel, omni-channel, agile commerce, cross channel and so on don’t matter. What matters is you, the service and the products you offer to your customers.

The other day someone ask me what is the end game of multichannel commerce? Well, I think the end game must be when technology doesn’t matter anymore, when selling goods and services is simple again, regardless of where the transaction is happening. I think of it like driving a car in the early days - you had to know an awful lot to actually drive it. You spent ages looking into the engine and wondering why it wasn’t working or what the funny noise was. That’s the state that commerce is in today. You can see the bare engine working but it’s not always the prettiest of sights. In a few years the engine will be hidden underneath an attractive cover. It’s the driving that matters to most of us, not the engine itself.
Your goal today is to build that engine, so the fiddly mechanics are hidden and you can focus on what matters to your business.

It is also about managing fear of the unknown. New devices and gadgets become less intimidating  once it is clear they just provide a window, a different view into your world. They are just another way of accessing the very same information you are already providing on your website, and yes, they might expose  holes in your data or integration issues that need improving, but they do not change your core business. Once you have mastered the process of fulfilling a telephone order, you’ve also mastered how to fulfill the same order placed over a mobile, tablet, Internet enabled TV set, onboard car computer, Google Glass, washing machine, or any other device you can think of.

Why squabble about investing into mobile or tablet when your commerce-anywhere strategy allows you to apply it across any channel?  Many retailers have already added new customer touch points to their mix, first in person, then stores, then by phone, then print catalogue. Internet browsers, mobiles and tablets are just extensions of this list. What has changed dramatically is the speed at which it happens. And that has exposed some flaws in the way companies have scaled their business in the sense of a physical presence in front of the customer. It is inefficient to copy processes, data, stock, and personnel repeatedly just because a new device has shown up.

Resist the temptation to spin into overdrive and anxiously come up with a quick solution for enabling a transaction/interaction with the new gadget.  Once you have embraced the Internet as a virtual room that extends everywhere and into everything, your processes should accommodate this type of change. In fact, recent studies (i.e. by Forrester & show that users almost exclusively encounter problems with the user interface, such as clicking on what they want, entering information, etc, and not the data or the processes themselves. Nothing a good, skilled graphic / UX designer couldn’t solve in a few days.

Here is my advice on the questions you should ask when devising your commerce-anywhere strategy:
1.       Do our business processes work in a virtual world where access to our data & processes is possible from virtually everywhere?
2.       Do our processes work across channel boundaries?
3.       Do we have a system that can deliver data to all these end points from a centralised hub?
4.       Can we fail fast and move on? It’s mobile today, are we agile enough to deal with whatever tomorrow brings?
5.       Do we have a system that gives non-developers, ie. graphic designers the ability to create an interface to a new device.
6.       Do we have an incentive policy that encourages employees from different channels to work together and not against each other.


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