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The future of m-commerce

The future of money depends on UXD.

As smartphones and tablets replace all things paper, and money is printed on paper, you don't have to be a genius to see where we're headed.

We've seen exponential growth in the use of smart phones and tablets. Smartphone sales in 2012 are expected to hit 1.8 billion units, while tablet unit sales are expected to climb to nearly 100 million. But with over half a million apps, new digital retail interface experiences and out-of-home social media habits, mobile use continues to be constrained by the slow proliferation of a superior User Experience Design (UXD). This is the biggest hurdle we face as we move toward a truly mobile future.

Architecting an experience for the user is different from information architecture on the web. UXD demands more simplified telegraphic communication that is more dependent on visual cues than words. The beauty of this beast is that research data is built-in to the product itself, and should be used more frequently to optimize the experience.

This is not to say there aren't some killer apps out there. We're seeing a slew of new banking apps moving the industry forward. Mobile payments are predicted to skyrocket to $214 billion by 2015. Pre-programed wallets have been slow to adopt. Overcoming privacy issues and consumer skepticism while providing stored credentials and account information, including credit card numbers and checking account EFT data, is a challenge. The privacy and security of a wallet in your pocket or purse must be matched by a mobile wallet you carry around for all to see. Would you leave your wallet just sitting out on a table in a coffee shop?

Beyond security, it is the UXD challenge that looms large, especially as mobile platforms proliferate. Widespread adoption of the tablet can be unequivocally credited to Apple's introduction of the iPad in 2010 and Amazon's Kindle Fire is set to expand the market even further, attracting more users with its lower price point. Tablets functionally exist somewhere between smartphones and laptops, so should combine the best of both worlds. But this is precisely the challenge as sites developed for laptops are still too complex for the smaller screen and mobile apps seen on tablets are just too simple.

Part of the solution has been device detection and redesigning web content for an optimized mobile experience. Developers continue to take the "native" approach, creating a separate application for each mobile platform and operating system. With new devices and OS's appearing with greater frequency, this approach will become even more time and cost prohibitive. A web app approach, offered on the homepage of your site rather than breaking through the morass of apps in a store, can deliver the best of both worlds offering highly interactive mobile applications that are optimized from both a usability and functionality perspective.

Not every commerce-oriented transaction or brand interaction should be mobilized. While we usually interpret "transaction" to mean commerce, it also can refer to any "action or interaction" with a brand --and people just don't want to interact with brands all that badly. It would appear that the best apps have two things in common -- they're less complicated with fewer steps and more impulsive. Geo-targeted retail is a hot spot as shopping is an impulsive activity, and some philanthropic applications, such as mobile donations to the Red Cross for the crises in Japan and Haiti, also work well.

Let's stop and take a breath -- we need to rethink creating mobile "versions" of web content and begin a new process: "Think Mobile First." We should be moving away from trying to condense a hundred web pages into a mobile app. Rather, we should take our time and begin with the simplified essence of that particular mobile user experience and expand it out from there. It's like that quote from Lincoln: "I'm sorry I wrote such a long letter. I did not have the time to write a short one."

When we "think mobile first," we're forced to identify the key transaction we want with our customer. If you're a retailer, is it a purchase or a geo-targeted message directing one to a brick and mortar outlet? If you're a CPG marketer, is it to engage the user in a dialogue or simply deliver a coupon at the exact right time and place? If you market a financial service, what's the single most important thing you can do to create a preference for use? The answer is simple -- simplification of the UXD. Imagine if there was a Google-like interface for mobile transactions

It can be further simplified based on subjective user feedback that's not all data driven. There's still a role for face-to-face research in the form of one-on-one, in-depth interviews, or in-store customer feedback. User experience includes the way a user feels about a service, and data can't always reveal this. The experiential aspects of interface design are subjective and as much about art as science. Motivations and values should be given as much, if not more, emphasis than efficiency and effectiveness. As mentioned above, the Red Cross donation experience tapped into the immediate feelings and values of the user, and the fact that it could all be easily handled by one's wireless carrier closed the loop.

With more online use moving from stationery large screens to mobile small screens, we're now at a tipping point where a mobile app isn't the add-on -- it's what we should start on. Thus, "think mobile first." The faster we nail the mobile UXD challenge, the faster users will increase transactional mobile behavior.

Finally, getting back to the possible end of paper currency, we're obviously already on the way. Most money has come to exist as merely digits in cyberspace, and it's in this space that we now live, act, interact, and transact. We're moving from the material to the experiential. What we're spending today isn't so much cash as credits, or as kids are saying, "creds." And that's a good place to start. UXD = creds.

Scott Holmes is President of United Future.

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"Credit cards in the mobile phone" image via Shutterstock.



Scott Holmes is founder and President of United Future (http://www.unitedfuture.com/), a WDCW (formerly Wongdoody) company, based in Culver City, CA. United Future provides interactive marketing communications and user-experience design &...

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