Marketplaces will win – Interview with Jonathan MacDonald29.09.2014
Jonathan MacDonald works as an adviser to global businesses including major ecommerce companies. Looking at mobile commerce, he thinks that it is very hard for small and medium sized companies to keep up with the pace of technical developments, in the face of mass global market places.
Hi Jonathan, what will your presentation at Neocom be about?
Jonathan MacDonald: I´ll be talking about mobile commerce. Is it just another channel or is it a game changer?
And what is it?
MacDonald: It depends on what the concept of mobile is. It´s interesting that mobile used to be mobile phones, now everyone includes tablets. That will increase to wearable technology and underskin technology.
Is it a healthy discussion to put tablets in there? In Germany we see more tablet use on a stationary basis.
MacDonald: That´s a core point. In the US, mobile commerce is up to 100 billion dollars and most of it is driven by tablets. And if you look at India for example, growth over the last two years was at 800 per cent due to two reasons; cheap mobile phones and tablets. That´s the same in Europe: growth of mobile commerce correlates closely to growth of tablet distribution.
Are shop owners able to differentiate between whether a tablet is used in a WIFI-environment or via the 3g network?
MacDonald: Probably they can differentiate, using User Agent Profiles (UAP) or similar methods, but some feel that a better idea, rather than read source information is to use a responsive website that can deal with either screensize and display different content.
That’s a very narrow perspective, because the environment can be so different, whether you are at home or on the road and so can be the use cases. It´s more than design.
MacDonald: I frequently work at a strategy level with big companies and of course, the different context of usage is information that needs to be taken into account, massively. That´s not a technical perspective, it´s a human perspective. But I still think that one of the big challenges is when shop designers try to figure out and to plan what people want, instead of giving them the choice and a fluent user experience.
For example you can think of people at home on a tight schedule, needing to fulfil their purchase in a straightforward and quick way, but also imagine someone walking her dog and browsing 15 different products on her phone. Many companies would assume the first scenario and try to limit the available mobile content, however, this would be totally counterproductive. Despite clever technology, we can´t always predict the context people exist within, at any given time.
Could it be a good idea of asking customers, that arrive with a mobile device, which task they want to accomplish?
MacDonald: Maybe. But sometimes even the question alone is a barrier to a good user experience. But there are more differentiated methods of getting to know what people want to do. You can see users skipping back and forth to obviously compare products and others typing in a very distinct search term like “ipad leather case” and you could derive from this that the repeated query is a lot closer to the purchase than the first.
There are companies that understand this very well and others just try to squeeze down their online checkout to a small screen, which may or may not be what the customer wants.
Is there a common mistake, shop owners frequently do, when they try to offer a mobile version?
MacDonald: A lot of companies try to offer the content of their whole website, displaying all of the information. On the mobile device you have to hide deep information under a sort of “expand” button, so the user can decide, how deeply he or she wants to be informed.
Another mistake people often make is that they overlook that there are many people out there who do not feel comfortable with paying on a mobile device. This is not necessarily a trust issue. If you look at discarded carts on mobile it´s a lot higher than on the desktop, which undoubtedly includes issues regarding user experience in general.
Do people use their mobile carts as sort of wishlist, which they hope to find, when they re-enter the site from their desktop computer?
MacDonald: Yes, of course. Having an “add to wishlist” button is quite a good technique. But despite these detail problems, it remains obvious, that trust and comfort with mobile shopping is increasing rapidly. Some companies offer a better user experience on mobile then on the web; just look at the apps from Ebay or Amazon.
Have you tried to use Amazon one click on a mobile phone? It´s fantastic. It´s so easy and straightforward, you immediately ask yourself “and that´s it?”
That´s a bit more difficult in Germany, because our legislation requires online shops to use a very distinct term on the buy button. You can´t try you own experiments, you have to use „kostenpflichtig kaufen“.
MacDonald: That´s a pretty unique approach, isn´t it?
It is. As mobile development is moving so fast, it´s hard for shop owners to keep the mobile shopping experiences up-to-date. Will this lead towards shop owners offering even more at the big marketplaces, because these provide a fairly good user experience?
MacDonald: I believe that the market places will win out. I don´t believe, that the small and medium sized enterprises will be able to compete effectively on their own without such market places. Just look at the success of Alibaba as an international marketplace. It would seem they have everything, from the range of the offer to customers and the range of countries to access, all of which is very interesting to vendors and shop owners.
Thanks, Jonathan, looking forward to meeting you in Düsseldorf.