On Sunday the most influential newspaper on the East Coast of the United States ran an article about Mobile eCommerce. It quoted compelling statistics from the largest computer company in the world. The quote was to the effect that in October 2011, 10% of eCommerce was transacted on mobile devices, and that this would have enormous impact on in-store shopping this holiday season.
For those of you who live outside of the United States, the day after the U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving is a runaway frenzy of shopping Saturnalia known as Black Friday. Retail stores open their doors anytime from Midnight Thursday and 6AM Friday, often to stampedes of shoppers. Think of Pamplona’s running of the bulls, but in this case it is the bulls who would flee from the aggressive humans.
But I digress. When I read the statistic that 10% of eCommerce was conducted by mobile devices in October, something just did not sit right. As Kermit the Frog would say: “10% – REALLY!” I did what I often do when vetting statistics. Being one of a cautious nature, I remind myself that “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics”. Who knows who really said that first. Doesn’t matter. What do I do? For backup on facts, I SMS my children, and ask them to text their cohorts. This can yield about 50 answers from six US States and three countries in about one hour. All from mobile/internet/social/shopping savvy consumers. So I put the question to them: “How much stuff do you buy from your smartphones, iPhones, iPads – or whatever mobile device you have?
Are you ready for this? They broke down the ‘statistics’ in about 30 minutes. First, none of them bought anything of any value like shoes, clothing, jewelry or anything else off of a mobile phone. They sure did a huge amount of comparison shopping, but little to zero buying. Second, they said that “eCommerce” probably meant “in a few countries in Europe and the United States.” Third, and presciently, they said, “does that include iTunes and mobile apps?” Wow. Holy. I went back to the “Statistic.” It said 10% of eCommerce was on a mobile device. It did not say that 10% of the money was via a mobile app. But it was in an article discussing in-store shopping. So, sure: there are gazillions of mobile apps bought, songs bought. Was that the point? Misleading but perhaps accurate.
Chalk this one up to any other consumer good you consume: Caveat Emptor – let the buyer beware. I say that with Pete Townshend’s 40 year old anthem, We Won’t get Fooled Again, from Who’s Next, playing in my head. Here is a suggestion: before you fall too deeply in love with statistics about mobile eCommerce, connect up with your key buyers and see what they have to say. So far I haven’t seen too much sharing of information by buyers who are rushing to make quick purchases. Nothing like the social sharing about hotels, or items on Amazon, Zappos, or online sites. This will be a fascinating season to watch, primarily in the U.S. where the mass hysteria of ‘holiday’ shopping transcends the more sedate tone in other parts of the world. As someone very concerned with Customer Service and Support issues, I find it mind-blowing how little thought has been given to customer support for consumers on mobile devices. If the data about eCommerce and mobile is even remotely correct, there will be a lot of unhappy customers out there.
Let’s keep our ears and eyes open, and record as much information as we can, because we are approaching, but likely have not arrived at, a turning point in mobile eCommerce. For that I look to my colleagues like Gene Alvarez and Michael Gartenberg, and to you.