Mobile Commerce Can Work at 30,000 Feet

Mobile for commerce keeps popping up in numerous new places.

By now, we’re getting used to seeing iPads being used as checkout devices at small businesses and mobile payment devices in taxis.

Seeing LevelUp used at all the concession stands in the Austin convention center at the recent SXSW was kind of expected, even if not every customer used it.

I saw tablet commerce in action again on my flight from Dallas to Las Vegas yesterday.

As the flight attendant in first class made his rounds taking lunch orders, rather than scribbling notes or checking boxes on a piece of paper, he entered them with a stylus onto a Samsung 7-inch tablet.

American Airlines made headlines a few months back when it announced that it was issuing Samsung Galaxy’s to some 16,000 flight attendants.

On my flight, rather than having to check to see if any specific meals already were accounted for, the system tracked food inventory automatically as the flight attendant tapped input.

The device also had a credit card reader to be used for in-flight purchases. While hardly a new concept, the platform is running on Google’s Android rather than a closed, proprietary system.

The irony is all this was done on an old American Airlines 757, one of the small number of American’s 757s without Wi-Fi.

On my previous fight to Dallas, the American Airlines plane had electrical outlets for phones and computers along with Wi-Fi. But the flight attendants on that flight took food orders on paper.

The tablet-armed flight attendant yesterday said that even though tablets have been issued to all of the airlines’ flight attendants, “some still use their paper.”

This raises the issue of the speed of the path of mobile commerce.

A company can issue particular mobile technology to an entire staff, as in a Home Depot or Lowe’s, for example, with the expressed intent of improving customer service. The general idea is that putting mobile technology into the hands of those who deal directly with customers will help the business provide better and more immediate customer service.

From the consumer’s viewpoint, the interaction is expected to be easier, faster or at least more rewarding.

The catch is that the people receiving the mobile devices may not initially understand (or agree with) the potential value the device may bring to their customer interactions, so they don’t adopt it as readily or as soon as planned by the company’s mobile visionaries. It may be more passive rejection than outright rebellion.

Mobile commerce technology designed to improve customer service and can fit in a pocket adds no customer value when it remains in the pocket.


mCommerce Summit Update: Bank of America, Verizon Wireless, Unilever, Hyatt, Walgreens, , Foot Locker, Verizon Wireless, Western Union, Pandora, Giant Eagle, Ansible Mobile coming.  June 16-19, in Kohler, WI. Check it out here.

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