In the age of the desktop web, where every web browser was conquered by Google and its iconic search, Search advertising ruled. Search advertising was the business that made the legendary tech giant we know today. As the facilitator and mediator of the desktop web, Google reaped the benefits of connecting every web user with a relevant site, selling advertising alongside every use. It was masterful and Google became the undisputed king of the Web Economy.
In 2006, Facebook and the social web emerged as a challenge to Google. Could a completely different kind of service sap the attention and position of Google? Could the “Social Web” be the new starting point for web interaction, siphoning away the eyeballs and attention Google had won? Luckily for Google, no. Google scrambled to develop Google+, but in the end, it didn’t matter. Facebook, though successful, could not beat The King.
But, Mobile is a whole different class of threat. And Mobile is not Social. Facebook tried to shift attention on the same platform — the desktop web. Mobile, instead, scrambles everything. While the desktop web economy is driven by advertising, Mobile creates value in much more inter-connected ways.
Mobile — the rise of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet — doesn’t create value with each page or ad delivered. Mobile doesn’t really create value in the selling of apps or in-app add-ons. Mobile’s real power is enabling products that connect digital data, sensors and displays in the real-world, with multiple devices. Mobile has become the primary interface to the modern everything-connected world, not the desktop world that Google ruled.
As users rely on their smartphones more and more, and rely on traditional web search less and less, Google’s undisputed reign is under siege. In this fight, Google does not have an answer. Android, despite its incredibly wide adoption, does not make money on its own and it doesn’t feed Google’s ad business. It’s a technology stack that Samsung and a flock of Chinese handset manufacturers have built a hardware business upon, but left Google with the hard, expensive work of creating all the plumbing.
Will the ad business go away? No. Web ads will be as relevant as much as newspapers, magazine, radio, and TV ads are still relevant. But, ads will no longer drive the development of digital products and services. New services can worry less about massive user acquisition and monetizing it with ads. With Mobile, it’s now possible to create completely new kinds of things that are interconnected, multi-device, and mobile at the core.
Google will not go away. But it won’t rule over the digital economy like it did for that fleeting decade where the web browser ruled supreme.
This article was first published on Albert’s blog, Citizen Al Writes Longer.
This article originally appeared in Strategy.
Last month, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled Fire, Amazon’s first entry into the already crowded and hyper-competitive smartphone race, sparking renewed interest in the global e-tailing giant’s mobile commerce strategy.
Pitched to go up against premium category leaders Apple and Samsung, the Fire smartphone features built-in Amazon apps working on Fire OS 3.5, a custom layer built on Android. With a generous but not overly generous 4.7-inch display (landing it squarely between the iPhone 5 and the Samsung Galaxy Note), Bezos boasted that Fire was the perfect size for easy single-handed operation. (The gyroscope-enabled, one-hand scrolling is a nice touch, but it seems more like a gimmick than practical.) What currently sets Fire’s display apart from its competition though, is a unique optical effect that Amazon has dubbed Dynamic Perspective, which renders onscreen images into something that simulates 3D. Neat stuff.
At $199 for a 32GB model and $299 for the 64GB with an AT&T contract, its cost is comparable to that of other high-end smartphones. Along with Fire’s price comes a free one-year subscription to Amazon Prime – valued at $100 – which offers second-day delivery on most products and access to Amazon’s huge library of music, movies and TV shows – all gratis. Current Prime subscribers will receive a credit toward an additional year. Clearly, Amazon is banking on the idea that Fire will address shoppers’ m-commerce needs by neatly integrating into its growing ecosystem of products and services.
Despite the standard and not-so-standard smartphone bells and whistles, Fire’s core customer might just be Amazon power-users who are looking for easier, more convenient ways to shop… on Amazon. By controlling the canvas and the content of its smartphone, Amazon is effectively turning Fire into a hand-held product showroom, making the buying process as seamless as possible for its customers. This move supports a recent report published by RetailMeNot, which found that 70% of marketers believe most consumers care a lot about finding a good deal and almost two-thirds of retail executives think branded mobile platforms are effective at driving sales.
Firefly, Fire’s app that could be the ultimate killer of bricks-and-mortar retailers, is best thought of as an embedded marketing tool for Amazon.com. With recognition technology that operates like a mix between Shazam and Google Goggles (on steroids, natch), Firefly can recognize more than just barcodes or QR codes (which it does), but also identifies printed text on posters, magazines, and business cards – making calls, saving contacts, sending emails and visiting websites are all possible without typing long URLs or phone numbers. Using Fire’s camera, Firefly is so smart that it can recognize ordinary household products, from food items to books to videogames and more – all leading to online purchase opportunities and increasing the chance for conversion. This convenience does come at a price, however, with privacy activists citing that using Firefly could give Amazon unfettered direct access to the phone’s camera, microphone, GPS location and metadata.
Given Amazon’s calculated push to own the digital entertainment space through its growing Music Store and Instant Video service, Firefly’s uncanny ability to know virtually any product, then directly link Fire users to make purchases on Amazon, could spell trouble for both Apple’s iTunes service and bricks-and-mortar retailers.
While Fire won’t be immediately available in Canada when it launches in the U.S. on July 25, there are some notable issues to consider when Amazon’s smartphone does head up north. According to the 2014 Mobile Personas report, a comprehensive study of mobile usage and behaviour of Canadians, Android is steadily building momentum among mobile operating systems, which bodes well for the Android-based Fire. What doesn’t fare well for non-Amazon retailers is the fact that smartphones have become de facto sales clerks for many Canadian shoppers on their path to purchase, with nearly half of all Canadian shoppers across all demographic groups stating that they use their smartphones to solicit advice from friends and family about products, compare prices and look up product information.
By delivering a smartphone that helps shoppers make informed decisions, and then making purchases so much easier, Fire and Firefly could fuel impulse purchasing like never before – all through a smartphone.
In the most essential ways, the phone options in Fire seem like an afterthought. Think of Fire less as a smartphone, and more as a Trojan Horse designed to cater to impulse shoppers on the go. Only instead of unknowingly being lured into making a purchase, Fire users have actively put the power of Amazon in their own hands.
This article originally appeared in Strategy.
From diapers to dishwashers, smartphones are playing an increasingly important role in helping Canadians shop for a variety of products and services. A recent report by IDC Canada revealed 61% of Canadian smartphone users have used their phone to find a store location or hours; 69% have downloaded and used at least one shopping app; and 35% have used their phone to look up information instead of asking a store employee.
In response, Canadian retailers are scrambling to determine which combination of mobile technologies they should invest in to best serve customers’ needs and evolving expectations: mobile web, native mobile apps, and/or responsive sites?
There is no shortage of opinions on the topic — but what has been missing from the conversation is a decision framework to help retailers evaluate their options and select the best approach.
Is your priority to reach a broader audience or deepen engagement amongst loyal customers? To be universally accessible, or to offer a unique and personalized experience to a subset of your customers? To support mobile shopping or improve the in-store shopping experience?
Responsive and mobile sites provide a device-optimized experience, are search engine accessible and deliver the majority of expected shopping features and functionalities, from local store information to catalogue browsing and searching, and enabling transactions. In comparison, the most popular retailer apps go beyond the basics to provide immediate and specialized utility to enhance and extend the in-store shopping experience.
For example, popular retail pharmacy chain Walgreens has both a transactional mobile site and native mobile app. Both sites provide mobile-focused shopping with free shipping; however, the Walgreens mobile app experience is oriented toward improving a customer’s in-store experience. Through the mobile app, customers can manage and refill pharmacy prescriptions, set pill reminders, access personalized offers via reward cards and place orders that can then be picked up at local stores.
Support your customers’ needs and behaviours
What activities do your customers want to accomplish on their mobile devices and what are their underlying motivations? Are their behaviours similar across desktop, tablet and mobile devices, or do they differ? And in which contexts are your customers using their mobile devices — in the store, at home, or on the go?
One of the main benefits of responsive sites is their ability to provide a seamless and unified user experience across devices. For retailers whose customers display similar shopping habits and want access to the same information across desktop, tablet, and mobile devices, responsive sites can be an excellent option. However, they may be cumbersome and restrictive in supporting the unique differences in desktop and mobile shopping behaviours.
In these situations, a hybrid approach that combines the best of responsive and adaptive principles can be another option. In this approach, templates are designed using a responsive framework, but key screens and functionality can be customized for contextually unique interactions. This can be an ideal solution for retailer sites in which mobile intent and behaviours differ significantly across devices.
Identify technical and operational considerations
Are speed and performance a priority? Is there a willingness to manage separate code bases? How frequently will updates occur?
Last but not least, it’s crucial to evaluate the underlying technical or operational considerations that will be required to support your mobile strategy. Responsive sites can suffer from slower speed and performance issues, but are easier to maintain and update due to their single code-base. And while mobile apps offer specialized features and functionality, they may take longer to launch due to a lengthy app store approval process and might frustrate and inconvenience customers by repeated security updates and bug fixes requiring them to download new versions.
While mobile apps, mobile sites and responsive design each have their own merits, determining which one is right for you can be answered by prioritizing your goals, putting your customer’s needs front and centre, and being aware of the underlying operational considerations required to support each technology.