The explosive growth of mobile-phone ownership in the developing world is partly the result of a vibrant recycling, the arrival of cheap phones and a general increase in per capita income. It is also growing rapidly because of the efforts of forward-thinking retailers. However, simply creating an app isn’t necessarily useful. We still need to consider context. People are mobile, not just the devices, which means complications arise in aligning what we want to do or can do with the technology vs. what is actually going on when shopping. People shop because they need products, but they also shop because it is entertaining, solidifies cultural norms, etc. Because of that, there a host of pitfalls that can emerge when mobile shopping apps are simply thrown out there because of a perceived need on the part of retailers to have a mobile presence. That being said, mobile connectivity is the reality of the global market and it will continue to change things in remarkable ways.
Take India. Only 7% of the population regularly access the internet from a PC. But brutal price wars mean that 507 million Indians own mobile phones. That’s 507 million people who see your products and retail setting as potential status brands. How can mobile factor into this? How should mobile factor into this? Under what conditions are people shopping and why is it so?
In other developing countries, too, there are many more mobile phones than traditional internet connections. There are 610 million internet users in Brazil, Russia, India, China and Indonesia, but 1.8 billion mobile-phone connections. And each of these economic giants has different expectations about language, product status and shopping. Getting your mobile strategy right can mean millions. Both in terms of profit and in terms of failure.
Remember also that this is about more than the technology, it’s about behavior. There was a time that breaking out your cell phone in a public space was considered rude. Today it is perfectly normal. Similarly, while people may not break out their iPad or tablet in a store today, it will happen soon enough. Be prepared for changing behavior and how those changes will change how, where and when people will use their devices.
In order for the mobile phone to reach its full potential, we’re going to need to understand what people really need from their mobile devices. And we will need to understand why.