How Instant Mobile Commerce Will Disrupt The Way You Do Business

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Jay Callum doesn’t like smartphones. “I don’t like being connected all the time,” he told me recently. “I like to have a life.” Yet as co-owner with Mike Bard of Waltham, Massachusetts-based EP Levine (founded 1954), a tech-savvy photographic supply house that works with photographers of all skill levels, Callum understands that there is no viable technological alternative for his business needs. EP Levine is no newcomer to 21st century technology. It uses eBay extensively and has seen a sharp rise in sales from its Amazon presence. Those platforms, while still critical, are no longer enough.

QUICK Mobile Marketplace

The key to EP Levine’s sales is “starting the conversation,” Callum says. “It’s crucial. The best form of advertising is still word of mouth, and if we can meet with a customer in person, then there’s a very good possibility of establishing an ongoing relationship, and even more word of mouth. For our business, where one purchase begets another—cameras need lenses; printers need ink—there’s no substitute to personal interaction. None. It’s what takes us viral the old-fashioned way.” This basic, local, human dynamic, however simple, is the secret sauce that will power instant m-commerce.

So why smartphones?, I asked.

“We need people to know at any moment exactly what we are selling and where we are. We need to bring them into the shop.” Callum and Bard now use the QUICK app and Mobile Marketplace to upload in almost no time EP Levine’s wares. Through multi-channel integration, the app allows them to populate other markets such as eBay, Craigslist, Google Shopping, and Facebook. Any buyer who uses the app can find them—and their products—the moment they are posted. Thus, a QUICK user in Cambridge who searches for “Canon camera” using the QUICK Mobile Marketplace can decide that it’s worth driving 8.8 miles to work with experts who will take care of them over the life of their purchase of a high-end Canon. What are they getting? A personal, highly customized, local experience. “Quick is easy to use,” Callum told me. “With a little practice, it’s no problem at all. They understand the salient points of what we need and why.”

Location, Location, Location

Doug Brenhouse and Jeremy Paradise, co-founders of Boston-based QUICK Technologies, have a clear vision of how to disrupt the retail market. The confluence of critical factors—(i) the near ubiquitous adoption of mobile technology, and particularly smartphones; (ii) mobile payment mechanisms; (iii) the explosion of atomized app-based services; and (iv) changing attitudes toward currency—enables them to give retailers “the ability to capitalize on their one remaining primary asset – being local,” says Paradise. Each of these factors is changing the way EP Levine does business.

The transition from (i) a national strategy to one that is (ii) national but with a particular focus on local markets may seem counterintuitive. It certainly did to members of Apple’s Board of Directors when Steve Jobs mapped out his long-term strategy for local Apple stores. The rest is history. Why is proximity so important, especially for high-end products? According to Gartner:

A key advantage of mobile devices over the PC is that mobile devices enable location services, and people can explore the physical world around them. The impact of location is more noticeable in the discovery stage where users develop awareness, collect information and conduct evaluation. For example, they can find out the deals offered by nearby businesses, learn which store has the lowest price and check which store has the product in stock. So mobile devices enable users to access specific information in a location- and time-sensitive manner.

Sandy Shen, Market Insight—A Framework For Mobile Commerce (Gartner Aug. 12, 2011). Brenhouse adds:

Apple proved that if people know that inventory and product expertise is nearby, people in general prefer to deal in person and get help with more technically complex products such as cameras, computers, televisions etc. The biggest challenge for the purveyor’s products is letting people know that they have solutions and the inventory nearby to help satisfy customers’ needs for an immediate solution and after-sales service. The smartphone and tablet solutions being provided by companies like QUICK offer retailers the easiest and most effective way to advertise their wares and communicate with their customers.

Mobile phones thus provide essential context to drive business based on personal relationships with customers. Gartner calls this “content-enriched commerce.” The Pew Center affirms this, noting that the anytime/anywhere, always-on nature of mobile phones magnifies the need for information that is both timely and location-sensitive. See Lee Raine, The State of Mobile America (Webinar NFAIS & Pew Internet Mar. 16, 2012). As Brenhouse puts it:

“Competing on proximity and location, services, accessories, and complements – This is the new name of the retail game.

THE PERFECT STORM: Mobile Technology, Mobile Payment Systems, Apps, and New Currency Converge.

Mobile Phones

According to superstar Internet analyst / venture capitalist Mary Meeker, the empowerment of people via connected mobile phones is the mega-trend of the 21st century. See Kleiner Perkins Internet Trends (Oct. 18, 2011). Forrester predicts that by 2015, there will be 1 billion smartphones worldwide, including 257 million in the United States. Eighty-eight percent (88%) of American adults already have a mobile phone. For the combined age ranges 18-29 and 30-40, that figure is 95%, and decreases only slightly to 86% for those aged 50-64. See id. Forty-six percent (46%) have smartphones and 19% have tablet computers, which are proving to be vital to retail in terms of both average sales conversion rates and order values. See Allison Enright, Retailers get mobile-friendly (Internet Retailer May 23, 2012) (citing Forrester and’s joint report, “The State of Retailing Online 2012”).

Mobile phones are an integral part of our lives. According to a recent Pew survey, 42% of U.S. adults who own cell phones report having “had trouble doing something because they did not have [their] phone with them.” Sixty-four percent (64%) use their phone “to get information they need right away.” Our developed “need” to access such information both anytime and immediately has resulted in a massive shift in modes of communication from email, landlines, and even cell phone calls to texting (e.g., SMS, iMessage) and instant messaging (IM). In many respects, whether used to communicate, shop, or as biosensors, these devices are becoming, for better and worse, nothing less than an extension of ourselves.

Mobile Payment Mechanisms

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