Announcements made tomorrow at Apple’s “special event” will undoubtedly pique the interest of consumers around the globe. As one of the two dominating mobile device providers controlling more than 93% of the smartphone OS market in the U.S. alone (Android being the other), what Apple has to say matters. But for as much excitement the Apple event brings to consumers, especially those holdouts waiting for their contracts to end on their iPhone 4S, it’s a potential game changer for brands.
In this I-want-what-I-want-when-I-want-it society, updates and upgrades offered by Apple mean brands have to quickly follow suit, creating brand experiences with features and functionality that accommodate new devices and operating systems. It’s a challenging cat-and-mouse game for all brands, but it’s especially daunting for brands that haven’t built a nimble process and infrastructure prepared for epic updates from tech behemoths.
The iOS application Passbook is a great example of brands not being ready or nimble enough to respond to new technology. When the app was announced at the 2012 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, tech writers were impressed by the incredibly intuitive digital wallet, but few retailers had the technology necessary to complete a mobile wallet transaction. Now, more than two years later, according to the Resource Mobile Intelligence Retail Tracking Report, only 12% of leading retailers give consumers the option to use Passbook. And this is despite reports that retailers like Sephora that do offer Passbook transactions see consumers spend twice as much and shop twice as often as non-Passbook users.
Now, Apple is rumored to be launching a new version of a mobile
wallet in partnership with American Express, Visa and MasterCard, which begs the question: If large brands couldn’t offer Passbook to their customers during the last two years, what’s the
likelihood of them meeting consumer expectations with a new mobile wallet? Or more important, what happens to those brands if they don’t?
Another challenge for brands is that they have a desktop mentality in a mobile world. Leading mobile retailers are performing major mobile upgrades at least once a year if not more, which is a drastic departure from updating desktop sites that typically remain largely unchanged for three or more years. Delays in retailer and brand adoption of current consumer-facing technology present opportunities for consumer attrition.
Smaller, faster retailers and brands like Amazon, Nasty Gal, H&M and Starbucks are seeing success in the marketplace partially due to digital utility. It’s easy to shop these brands, and that’s what consumers want. Instead of spending time determining the best solutions, these brands are quick to market, choosing to implement and update over time. They seek experimentation and speed over perfection, and it’s paying off.
So tomorrow, when the Apple countdown clock runs out and consumers hang on Tim Cook’s every word, what can brands do to be ready? They need a team — one that combines mobile and technology experts who focus on extensibility of proprietary systems, iterations in design and development, and take into account unknowns and future changes coming through the marketplace. Apple, Android and consumer are in charge.
And it’s up to brands to upgrade.