Worldwide, 30% of ecommerce site traffic came from mobile in 2013. Souq.com, the Amazon, of the MENA region recently revealed that 40% of its sales (and growing) come from mobile. They predict that mobile will be the main way to shop by 2015. All over the world, all eyes are turning to mobile, with Facebook declaring itself a mobile-first company along with their acquisition of Whatsapp (a mobile-only messaging platform) for a whopping $19B. If you’re still not convinced that mobile is the way to go, then you should stop reading.
There are already many on the cutting edge who have taken to Instagram to set up their m-stores. And you know what? They are doing great. But Instagram is a photo-sharing app, not an m-commerce platform. And I can hear others now proudly boasting about their mobile responsive website. Sorry, but responsive just doesn’t cut it. Consumers prefer native apps, enough said. And an icon on their phone reminds them to go shopping, while a web browser on a phone takes the user everywhere but to your responsive website. Mobile is the best shopper experience.
How is the mobile shopping experience different?
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An example of Shopper experience by SAPEnterpriseMobile
79% of smartphone owners reach for their mobile to research products, compare prices, and get recommendations. Capture consumer mindshare, and combat showrooming, with SAP Shopper Experience. It’s a personalized and engaging app that makes shopping fun and rewarding before, during
What in the world is the Instagram shopping experience?
Have you heard of Instagram shopping? If you were born before 1985, chances are you’ve probably never heard of it. Instagram shopping is a phenomenon that’s taking the world of under 30s by storm. And this is particularly so in the developing world, a huge hit in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. But isn’t Instagram a photo-sharing app? (Yes.) Did they pivot to become an m-commerce app? (No.) Instagram is a social network based on photo-sharing. They don’t offer an m-commerce platform. So what exactly is Instagram shopping?
Instagram shopping experience is the fine art of ‘discovering’ beautiful and ‘exclusive’ items for sale by other users of Instagram. It is based on the #hashtag system, which originated on Twitter, but now is commonplace across social networks. Shoppers begin by searching certain hashtags, such as #dubaifashion. The infamous Instagram wall displays all publicly shared photos tagged with this hashtag. The majority of these are personal photos by individuals; but mixed in are photos that showcase a certain brand (Instagram marketing) and photos of items that people have posted for sale (Instagram shopping). Interested users can take a closer look at these product photos, ‘like’ the photos and ‘comment’ on the photos. If users wish to purchase, the next step is to contact the seller who posted the photo, typically through Whatsapp (Whatsapp numbers are posted on seller profile pages). Finally, goods and money are exchanged either in person or through courier service. That’s it in a nutshell. So what’s the big deal? What does Instagram shopping offer that traditional e-commerce doesn’t?
Answer: The Web 3.0 Experience
First off, Instagram shopping is mobile-first and mobile-only. If you don’t know the difference between m-commerce and eCommerce, then you should read this. Instead of going shopping, shopping goes with you. A mobile-first, mobile-only platform means that users are always online. Unlike the computer, you don’t really log-out of anything on a smartphone. This means that users of a mobile-only platform are always connected. This is what makes mobile social interaction so engaging. It’s always on. Visually-pleasing Users today EXPECT a visually-pleasing experience. Instagram shopping is a visually-pleasing experience. As opposed to traditional e-commerce photographs that showcase products functionally (think amazon.com, souq.com, gap.com etc), Instagram product photos are whimsical, exotic, glamourous (think magazine photo shoot). Instagram product photos (not all, but the good ones) are content themselves, not a means to an end. On the other hand, traditional e-commerce product photos are a means to get buyers to click “add to shopping cart”. Instagram shopping is true “online window shopping”, because browsing Instagram product photos is enjoyable in and of itself.
The process of discovery
Instagram shoppers don’t typically go to any one “Instagram store” when shopping. The shopping is an incidental occurrence of browsing photos grouped by a certain hashtag. For instance, I just searched for #Cairo and a wall of photos was displayed. The one that caught my eye was a picture of rows of yummy-looking cupcakes. I tapped on the photo and discovered that it was put up by “The #1 gourmet bakery in Egypt”. They have a whole wall of photos of colorful and delectable pastries that can be made to order. This process of discovery is what keeps Instagram shoppers coming back. Firstly, you never know what you are going to find, so there’s the thrill of the hunt. And secondly, there is a sense of exclusivity because the products aren’t always easy to find.
Instagram is after all a social network built on photo-sharing, so social interaction is a key component of the Instagram shopping experience. Here the ‘like’ and ‘comment’ features are what engages users. Buyers can see how many other users liked a particular item which triggers a “keeping up with the Jones” complex. They can also see what others are saying about the item and engage in the public conversation as well. When new comments are made, they get a push notification on their phone which keeps them coming back to the item. They can also share the item to other social networks and hopefully get their friends to engage as well.
The Problems with Instagram Shopping
So now you know what makes the Instagram shopping experience different from traditional e-commerce. And you might well be toying with the idea of becoming an Instagram seller. However, while Instagram is a great tool for socializing and marketing a brand, it really isn’t built for m-commerce and actual selling.
Problem 1: Keeping track of product listings/catalog, and finding specific items
Each user’s Instagram wall is just a bunch of photos listed in backward chronological order, with the latest photos posted first. Photos have captions that are searchable only by hashtags. As a seller, you can’t maintain a proper catalog because you can’t name items and there really isn’t a consistent place to put a price. As a buyer who isn’t in “discovery mode”, if you are looking for a specific item, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack.
Problem 2: Keeping track of buyers and sellers
Buyers can search for sellers by username (if they know it) and retrieve seller info if they’ve “followed” a particular seller. Sellers can do the same with buyers. However, the complexity arises when users begin to follow a large number (hundreds or even thousands) of other users. At this point, it’s nearly impossible to figure out which seller was selling that particular item you wanted to buy without having to go through each user profile one by one. The same problem exists on the seller’s side: how to track down the interested/repeat buyer to offer a discount?
Problem 3: Communications and Logisitics
Instagram does not offer any private communication tools beside the direct photo-sharing feature. So sellers encourage buyers to contact them on mobile messaging apps like whatsapp. A typical conversation goes like this…
Buyer: “Hi, I saw your item on Instagram.”
Seller: “Which one?”
Buyer: “The shoes.”
Seller: “Which shoes?”
Buyer: “The sandals with the gold trim.”
Seller: “You mean the flats or the heels?”
You get the idea. More time is spent going back and forth trying to figure out which item is at stake than time spent on buying and selling. Can you only imagine if the buyer wanted to purchase several items at the same time?
The Future of m-commerce: Melltoo
The Instagram shopping experience provides the blueprint for the m-commerce experience of the future. It is unlikely that the under 30s of today will continue to be satisfied with the current shopping experience offered by e-retailers. And yet Instagram is not optimized as a shopping platform. Melltoo was built to fill this gap. Melltoo is a mobile app that offers the Instagram-shopping experience with whatsapp built-in. Melltoo has reproduced the Instagram shopping experience by being mobile-first/only, visually-pleasing and by enhancing the process of discovery and social interaction. Melltoo also goes a step further to address the problems with Instagram shopping by providing a beautiful and intuitive interface to keep track of product listings, find specific items quickly and easily, and keep track of buyers and sellers. Melltoo also has a built-in private chat for ultimate social engagement, in-app payment AND delivery. Say goodbye to e-commerce 2.0. Welcome to m-commerce 3.0.
Not so long ago, I was one of those who thought m-commerce meant e-commerce on a mobile. It seemed that the only difference was the screen size. Fortunately, I’ve come to learn that the difference lies in user experience and that both soft and hardware matter. Herein lies the difference between a responsive/mobile-optimized website (e-commerce on mobile) and a native app (m-commerce).
What is e-commerce on mobile (aka the responsive/mobile-optimized website)?
What is m-commerce (aka the native app)?
A native app is something you download from the app store. It opens from an icon on the home screen of your phone, not through a mobile web browser like Safari or Chrome. Some websites, called dedicated mobile websites, pretend to be native apps. You download the “app wannabe” from the app store and open it; only to discover that it is in fact a mobile web browser that opens only one website. Essentially, what you’ve downloaded is a bookmark for a website. A true native app uses the hardware on your smartphone to deliver a mobile shopping experience that cannot be replicated on a mobile web browser. The m-commerce user experience is made possible by…
Ubiquity and Ubiquitous connectivity (3G!)
Where is your smartphone now? Chances are, in your hand as you are reading this. Your smartphone follows you everywhere. You pull it out every time there is a dull moment in your day, while standing in line at the store, on the train during your daily commute, while walking, in a boring meeting, etc. Instead of “going shopping”, shopping now goes with you. Think about the last time you saw a pair of shoes, a toy, an electronic thingy, that you immediately wanted to buy. Where were you? Probably not sitting in front of your computer. You might have been on your way to lunch and eyed someone with a nice looking bag that you wanted. As soon as you arrived at the sandwich joint, you pulled out your phone and started shopping for that bag. You don’t do this on a laptop. And even if you had brought your laptop with you, what are the odds that there was available WiFi?
Why is your smartphone never far from you? Because it’s a pain to get up to go hunt for it when it beeps. And just as people would answer the phone while in mid-conversation with someone in front of them, they would certainly read the notification on their phone when it beeps. This is what keeps them coming back. How do you get people to come back to your web-store? Emails that they don’t read? Google ad words? If your app is installed on their phone, a push notification is much more enticing.
The phone is a tool for real-time communication. You make calls with it, you text with it, you send emails with it. Sure, you do these things on your computer too, but your computer doesn’t follow you around, so it’s only real-time when you are in front of it. A good salesperson converts window shoppers to buyers. So if the device you are
shopping with also allows you to communicate with a sales person in real-time, you are more likely to buy. Chat is a powerful tool for conversion. Shoppers are unlikely to call because of probable long wait times and email just takes too long. But chat is quick, low in time investment, and usually means instant responses from salespeople. Let’s put it this way: Can you have multiple phone conversations simultaneously? Well you can have multiple chat conversations simultaneously and nobody would even notice.
Above, I’ve highlighted the most salient features of a smartphone that makes the m-commerce experience unique. Smartphone technology continues to evolve and things like NFC (Near Field Communications) and Bluetooth LE are going to be pushing boundaries in the near future. But what we already have today in every smartphone, that native apps already know how to use, is powerful enough. e-commerce on mobile is no longer going to cut it. Time to go native, time for m-commerce. Download the Melltoo app and checkout how we have integrated all of these things to make m-commerce easier than ever in the UAE!
Are you an Instagram seller who needs a real m-store? Or are you a brick & motar retailer who wants to sell your products on mobile? Here’s your chance. Set-up a Melltoo m-boutique today in 5 easy steps.