Mobile plays an integral role in almost every aspect of consumers’ lives and has forever changed the way society interacts, lives, works, plays, shops and conducts business. In 2015 for the first time, app usage surpassed desktop usage and now accounts for more than half of all U.S. digital media consumption. With more than half of consumers in North America expressing interest in making payments with their phones, research indicates that mobile payment transactions could reach as high as $5.4 billion by 2018.
Consumers not only expect, but also demand mobile-based solutions that offer immediate, real-time results. In the past 24 months, major launches including Apple Pay, Chase Pay, Android Pay, Walmart Pay and most recently, Samsung Pay have quickly propelled the mobile movement, forever changing the way merchants interact with consumers. For many retailers, new business and growth are contingent on mobile engagement of customers. Today’s merchants are challenged to provide customers with a seamless purchasing experience regardless of the location or type of device used to complete the transaction.
Despite the overwhelming evidence pointing to mobile as the future, small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) lag behind the rest of the industry and are the slowest segment to adopt mobile technology. Exorbitant fees, expensive hardware upgrades, complex technology integrations and rising security threats are just a few of the perceived obstacles preventing many business owners and the vast opportunities mobile affords. Ironically, many of these perceived barriers are false, and when implemented strategically, launching a mobile commerce platform should not only boost revenue, but also reduce costs and create consumer loyalty.
Dispelling Mobile Misperceptions
Lack of resources, time, or capital to invest into the mobile channel combined with the growing costs associated with upgrading point-of-sale terminals have prevented many SMBs from taking advantage of the vast opportunities afforded by mobile. The majority of mobile commerce platforms on the market are designed for larger, big-box retailer and are unfortunately not feasible for most small businesses to implement.
However, advances in technology have made mobile platforms accessible to small businesses. Solutions designed specifically for SMBs should seamlessly integrate with existing POS hardware and software, require little to no technical knowledge to implement and leverage automated processes, requiring minimal time and resources to actually launch and maintain mobile campaigns. In fact, many of these solutions can be installed and operational in a matter of hours. These solutions have bridged the gap between merchants and the mobile movement, eliminating the previous barriers to entry impacting the majority of the SMB market.
For small businesses, integration of a mobile commerce platform with existing software is critical to ensuring an immediate return-on-investment, and also a seamless and positive user experience. And while the convenience of mobile payments is a major benefit, payments alone will not yield the adoption and usage levels needed to be successful. For small businesses in particular, mobile must move beyond payments and include value-add features and functionality that strengthen relationships with customers and build brand loyalty.
Building Brand Loyalty
Data recently compiled by SCORE revealed that it costs a small business nearly seven times more money to attract a new customer compared to the cost of cultivating a relationship with an existing one, and savvy business owners know that fact. Building a loyal customer base is a priority for every small business, and this remains true when implementing a mobile platform. Consumer adoption and usage of mobile is directly related to the value-adds and benefits received. For this reason, integrating a mobile loyalty component is critical to ensuring customers not only download, but also continue to use small businesses’ mobile apps.
In today’s market, the number of loyalty programs available to consumers is overwhelming. Research has proven the best and most effective loyalty programs are simple, easy to use and provide a valuable incentive. To garner the most success, loyalty programs should have very few, if any, requirements and restrictions regarding when and where users can redeem earned rewards. Additionally, rewards should be available to the customer immediately for redemption to avoid frustration and confusion over pending rewards. In a 2015 ranking of the best and worst loyalty programs, Spirit Airlines was ranked the worst program primarily because of the long list of restrictions and 90-day expiration mandate, giving users just 3 months to use or lose earned rewards.
Offering a robust loyalty and rewards program is perhaps the most critical component for ensuring a successful mobile channel. Complicated, confusing, programs will hold little to no value, even possibly driving customers away.
Attracting and Engaging Customers
Mobile provides small businesses yet another opportunity to attract customers and increase foot traffic. When selecting a mobile commerce platform, look for features designed to promote your business to nearby customers, including unlimited mobile advertising and location-based mobile offers. Integrating digital gift cards is another effective tool to reach new markets, provide additional value to customers and further generate awareness.
Research indicates that mobile offers are redeemed 10 times more frequently than print coupons. More than 50 percent of consumers have indicated they would be more likely to shop at a nearby store if they received a relevant offer on their phone. For small business owners, it is imperative that mobile platforms have the ability to send location-based, customized, tailored offers to customers. This not only provides yet another user incentive, but is also an opportunity to promote high margin products. To be effective, these ads and offers should be optimized for mobile devices and deliver a compelling yet concise message with a clear call to action.
Finally, built in security, fraud prevention and data security measures are essential when selecting a mobile commerce platform. Look for a platform that is designed to protect small businesses and guarantees while guaranteeing against chargebacks. One advantage of mobile-based payments is a decreased fraud liability for merchants. This is an especially important in today’s environment with the increasing number of high-profile retail credit card breaches. Ensure the platform has safeguards against fraudulent activity, limiting the small businesses’ exposure to risk.
In many ways mobile is the new frontier for small business owners. At the heart of the small business industry is the unique connection between the merchant and its customers. Mobile offers yet another channel to engage current customers, reward loyal patrons and connect with the greater community, generating brand awareness and attracting the next-generation of consumers. As the mobile movement continues to surge, small businesses can no longer afford to simply watch and wait from the sidelines.
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Ronald D. Herman has 25 years of executive technology leadership experience, and most recently the founder and chief executive officer of Sionic Mobile. Sionic Mobile is a social-mobile commerce company that combines mobile payments, mobile advertising and mobile loyalty tools to help merchants more effectively attract and connect with target consumer markets. The company is the developer of the ION platform which consists of ION Rewards, the consumer-facing mobile loyalty, instant rewards application, and ION Loyalty, the merchant-facing application that leverages mobile advertising, mobile payments, mobile rewards and digital gift cards to drive sales, increase foot traffic and build brand loyalty. Sionic Mobile operates the nation’s largest mobile rewards marketplace. For more information on Sionic Mobile products and services, visit www.sionicmobile.com.