The NRF (National Retail Federation) released version 2.0.0 of its Mobile Retail Blueprint in January 2011. As some of you would know, the Mobile Retail Blueprint is a comprehensive resource for Retailers interested in learning about what is possible using mobile devices and provides commendable insights on:
- Creating a total-enterprise mobile plan for improving the business
- Capabilities currently offered by mobile devices and how privacy and security policies can be created
- The types of mobile applications that help consumers shop, and how the needs of teenage shoppers differ from those of others
- The evolution of mobile payment technologies
- The types of mobile applications that help associates be more efficient
- The standards and technologies that apply in the mobile field
- Considerations for implementation options
As I went through the document, I felt that with six months passing since its publication, this was the right time for me to compare and contrast some of my experiences in the market and technologies with what has been detailed in the Blueprint. In doing so, I found that there were a few areas where I could either extend some of the thoughts expressed in the blueprint or throw some light on areas which have progressed since this document was published. This series of posts is my attempt at sharing these thoughts with all of you.
Some key excerpts from the Blueprint that I really liked are as follows:
“The question of whether consumers will adopt smartphones and other mobile devices is becoming less relevant.”
“Retail stores are not going to disappear anytime soon, but they are ripe for change.”
“. . . leading retailers must focus on ways to strengthen the relationship between their brand and their customers and not necessarily focus on each channel individually.”
What I feel should be scary for some retailers, though is that “Consumers with a mobile device can use apps (like the ones from Amazon or eBay, which are integrated with apps such as Red Laser) to find a better price while standing in the middle of a retail store.”
This has become a matter of concern for several retailers. A Wall Street Journal article in March 2011, describes how many consumers have started going to brick-and-mortar stores to experience and try the merchandise before they buy it from Amazon.com! It has been found that Amazon is on an average 11% cheaper than their brick and mortar competitors such as Bed Bath & Beyond, Best Buy, Dick’s Sporting Goods, hhgregg, Kohl’s, PetMed Express and Target. I’m sure that the proliferation of smart mobile devices coupled with Comparison Shopping apps have been a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
The introduction starts off with a good explanation of how the e-commerce revolution of the late 1990s has evolved and found its way into the mobile world. Strangely though, I see that a lot of the challenges that we faced during the early days of the web have also found their way into the mobile world. A post by Paul Boag does a great job in drawing parallels between the two. Perhaps some of the readers may find these points familiar:
- Print media specialists felt that they could approach the web directly transferring their skills across media. Today, several web designers don’t even blink before saying that they can do mobile as well. While a lot of commonalities do exist, I think it is important to also understand the differences between the two media and the up-skilling required for the mobile world.
- In the early days of the web, companies would talk of publishing their brochures online. We all saw what that did to them. Strangely though, many retailers seem to be treading a similar path by wanting to simply publish their catalogs on their consumers’ phones ignoring the fact that the mobile world is more about context than it is about content!
- Anyone remember getting notices on websites that read “this site only works on Internet Explorer / Netscape Navigator ver. XYZ”? Anyone tried to develop a unified mobile user interface across Blackberry, Android, Symbian, Windows Phones and iOS? Need I say more? Sure, there are cross-OS platforms galore; PhoneGap, RhoMobile, Appcelerator, WidgetPad, MoSync, Whoop and Adobe Flash Builder. Nevertheless, each one of them has their limitations, and you definitely cannot do everything you would be able to with Native SDKs. There also exist certain quirks with all of them and in some specific scenarios their behaviors may not be exactly uniform across mobile operating systems. Retailers therefore need to incorporate this challenge into their mobile development strategy and be ready for what lies ahead.
- The dilemma that existed about whether to write a web-based or client-server application now finds itself extended to the mobile world. Should websites be optimized for mobile devices or should we build apps that are resident on the mobile devices themselves? The Blueprint talks of Thin-Client Architecture where a server stores the data and manages control flow, while the mobile client is used only as a rendering and input handling mechanism. However, with 3G and 4G connectivity availability, speeds and coverage being an issue in some countries like India, there is often a need for some sort of local caching mechanism as well. I think the decision on a thin or fat client architecture ought to be driven by the operating environment, the needs of the specific application, the importance of the need to operate in disconnected mode and of course data security and trust. Sometimes, it’s not a bad idea to build hybrids as well, as is seen in the Facebook mobile app for some Android versions.
Copyright Notice: This post has references to the “Mobile Retailing Blueprint – A Comprehensive Guide for Navigating the Mobile Landscape”, Version 2.0.0. The following is the mandatory copyright notice that needs to be preserved with works such as this.
Copyright © National Retail Federation 20102011. All rights reserved.
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