OMMA M-Commerce Kicks BSOs Under The Bus

A big boatload of objects -- the bright, shiny kind -- took a drubbing yesterday at OMMA Mobile: M-Commerce. After more than five years of putting on the OMMA Mobile series, we decided to devote one in the series to a specific niche. But over the course of the day it was astonishing to hear about so many bright shiny objects (what one panelist called “BSOs”) tossed to the wayside.

Near field communication (NFC) seems to have taken more hits than just about every other topic. Almost everyone seemed to be saying -- in one way or another -- don’t hold your breath for NFC-enabled payments and interactions at retail. Even those like American Express SVP Joanna Lambert, who did concede “we think there is a lot of promise in NFC,” qualified it with explaining how AMEX is looking at a range of payment solutions. Her and AMEX’s policy in this space is to partner and learn, partner and learn. NFC will take a lot of time to work its way through multiple tiers: handsets, tech investments at many points and point-of-sale upgrades.

Waving a phone at a POS terminal is not a compelling experience for consumers anyway. Clearly there has to be more.

The panel on mobile payments argued that merchants were equally underwhelmed by the promise of NFC and even m-payments altogether because it didn’t address their key problem either -- growing business. Intuit’s Pranay Kapadia said that getting the merchant on board was not a matter of selling them the new BSO. Appealing to the retailer’s general desire to go mobile is not going to cut it. “People spend more when they don’t have to whip out cash,” he said.

Andy Kleitsch of Buck says they are seeing remarkably unexpected use cases emerge. One program sold high-priced sunscreen to people who forgot to bring it to the beach with them. “They had a Clinique taco truck for people buying sunscreen on the beach,” he said…and at $60 a pop. “We get requests for in-stadium transactions,” he added. “I don’t think users are afraid to spend money on their mobile phones. It is [more about] can we make this experience easy enough.”

There was a fair amount of early praise for Apple’s iOS 6 Passbook model from the mobile wallet panel. Most agreed that the only wallet that will make it is one that is payment- and retailer-neutral. ValPak’s Jim Buckley revealed that in just the first week of offering the local coupon app with Passbook compatibility, they had seen over 50,000 coupons pushed to the Passbook. I was one of them, in fact. And when I was at my local Mexican restaurant the other night, just doors away from the hardware store for which I clipped a coupon to Passbook, my iPhone gave me a geo-fenced alert reminding me that I had a discount I could use both there and at the nearby Walgreens. As several panelists pointed out, the successful mobile wallets of the future will be retail and payment agnostic and have active conversations with their users.

Speaking of debunking, the panel on showrooming redirected the discussion quickly away from showrooming itself and back toward the bad retail experiences the phenomenon exploits. Moxie’s Michael Foschetti was skeptical of the actual number of people who really end up buying something from another source after consulting their cell phones in-store. It is “more of a pebble in the show” of retail, he said. “It is the canary in the coal mine of poor retailers,” added Organic’s Shane Ginsberg. “It is not a bad thing for all retailers,” Foschetti concluded. “It is just a bad thing for bad retailers.”

Showrooming will force retailers to rethink their in-store experiences and their business models, many agreed. One approach is to let showroomers showroom and enhance a multichannel strategy that recaptures these window shoppers to make the sale elsewhere. Another approach is to empower salespeople to initiate the mobile experience in-store and even decide for themselves what tactic is best to keep that customer from making the buy elsewhere.

In listening to the conversations about m-commerce throughout the day I was struck by just how nascent and unformed the field was at this point. Consumer habits have not taken shape. Even a brand like AMEX is in such untested waters that its best bet is to place a lot of little bets. The one theme that echoed throughout is that chasing the BSOs is foolish because technology itself is not what unlocks m-commerce. Everyone spoke much less about technology and much more about consumer life cycles -- what moments of need emerge during the day and typical paths to purchase. It is a product that solves a problem that most of us don’t necessarily recognize as a problem yet. 

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