The large captive base of mobile users in India has been a discussion point for some time now; a billion users of mobiles, and 300 plus million smartphone users growing rapidly. Penetration in real terms is still low, but the userbase is larger than the US market which has almost 60 percent of the population owning a smartphone. Obviously, marketers want space on the mobile phone to connect, engage and retain the consumer with their apps. Subscribers are turning to their mobile for tactical searches, product information, and price comparisons, though conversions have been low.
The mobility challenge
Enterprises lag in the deployment of mobility solutions for their employees with limited use primarily for road warriors or sales teams. The same companies are anxious to reach their customers’ mobile phones as it could bring incremental revenues and higher wallet share. Major retailers and consumer packaged goods companies have launched mobile apps with a concerted push for enrolments incentivizing the customer to download. That said, they are struggling to keep the customers active and nudge them to use the mobile to make a sale.
Engaging customers through mobile
Until recently data costs were high and availability not ubiquitous; a beginning of 2017 we saw the costs drop dramatically and speed improvements, thus creating many first-time mobile internet users. Cost of devices also going south. The smartphone now is the first choice for many new buyers and those replacing their feature phones. The challenge everyone continues to face is limited real estate of the phone, multiple screen sizes, and resolutions, varied mobile operating system versions, and creating engaging user experience to incite the user to come back after the first few attempts.
Despite all this, it is anticipated that more and more users will use the mobile phone as their first device for accessing content, engage socially, and connect with brands for which they have an affinity. Digital wallet payments (the push came with demonetization) are on the rise especially in mid-tier towns with the younger population. These fickle minded digital natives want companies to engage with them at their terms, woo them and offer instant gratification. To keep them engaged loyalty is what brands must build around them as they will explore options before settling down.
Mobile, online or brick and mortar?
A question business leaders must be considering is whether India is mature enough for mobile commerce. I don’t believe that it is a relevant question anymore. Mobile is just one of the channels for customer engagement and it is not the only one; customers switch channels for most buying decisions. The start could be mobile, moving to web or the brick and mortar store and back multiple times to all these channels before taking the final step to close the purchase. Retailers globally and especially in China, have evolved their engagement spanning all the channels with higher success than focusing on only one channel.
The mobile wave has created a mid-life crisis for the Indian retailers, confusing them on where to focus and how to keep the customer engaged enough and grow sales. Omni-channel commerce has evolved from multi-channel retail by integrating various touch points and engagement platforms. The integrated approach is relevant for established players selling products, who have thus far been unable to connect the dots seamlessly. Customers expect the retailer to “know” them across channels and offer a seamless experience while engaging with them.
Omnichannel: The need of the hour
Startups find it easier to go to market through mobile apps with reduced initial investments; this is good for service-based startups and not necessarily good enough for those wanting to sell products. Marketplaces and commerce players need an Omni-channel strategy to find traction with the customer. They forget that apps have a short memory for consumers unless they offer a product or service that is likely to be used very frequently and not available through other channels at the same price and convenience. Competitive pressures are likely to burn cash to acquire and retain.
So use mobile judiciously in your business strategy.
The author is Co-Founder & Managing Partner, Ingenium Advisory Pte. Ltd.