Just as fashion editors are having to become bloggers and tweeters, retailers should be thinking not just e-commerce but also m-commerce– as in “m” for mobile. With the advent of the 4G world, consumers are about to be able to shop for anything, everywhere, all the time.

Imagine the following scenario, as envisioned by ng Connect, a consortium founded by tech company Alcatel-Lucent to explore the potential of high-bandwidth networks.

Hanna, a shopper, has her body mapped at an in-store kiosk and uploads a virtual version of herself to the high-speed data cloud. She then goes shopping on her mobile and tries items on virtually. Later, when she goes home, Hanna continues shopping on her smart TV, chatting in real time with an online personal shopper and sending choices to her friends via social networks. Meanwhile she takes in videos offering expert advice on L’Oréal beauty products from the editors of Elle magazine.

This is not far-fetched. Already available in the US, 4G LTE (long-term evolution) offers significantly higher speeds and reduced latency (lag time), which means videos and web pages download instantly. In the UK, BT and Everything Everywhere are trialling superfast broadband, with a national roll-out planned for 2014, and near-4G networks have debuted in the US, Japan, Sweden and Norway, with Russia leading the way thanks to Yota, an innovative provider.

“It’s not all about speed, but the services we can have when connected to the cloud,” says Silvio Fernandez, head of ng Connect Americas. He says the shift to mobile retailing is inevitable, as faster bandwidths make mobile phones our primary connection to the digital world.

“Yes, for over 10 years there was a reluctance to embrace e-commerce, and there’ll be a natural reluctance with mobile shopping, but the shift has already started,” he says. “I can pay for a coffee with my mobile now in the US.”

James Hart, e-commerce director at the online fashion retailer Asos, says 8 per cent of visitors to the sites arrive “via non-traditional sources” such as mobile devices.

“And that number is going to grow exponentially, starting this year, with the proliferation of tablets and cheap smartphones; connected TVs may even gain some momentum this year. In emerging territories there are people accessing the internet for the first time via mobile who may never even use a PC.”

However, just as there is no “stop” button on an iPod (only a “pause”), a default “shop” state for consumers will have its pros and cons. According to Holition, which describes itself as an “augmented reality retail specialist”, consumers will have access to a wealth of money-saving promotional codes offering more economical shopping.

But Lynne Murray, brand director for the London-based company, says there is a less welcome side. “The user will be constantly profiled. The targeting of product based on what you bought most recently may have a negative effect on consumer’s attitudes as they switch off to a constant ambush of communication from retailers,” she says.

Jonathan Chippindale, Holition chief executive, agrees. “Content will need to be presented carefully so as not to appear to interfere or pester the individual with products and services they do not want.”

Perhaps the greatest challenge for m-commerce is for mobile phones to be seen as payment devices. So-called “mobile wallet technology” has yet to be proved secure. Chances are that only when consumers stop leaving their mobiles on café tables while they eat will mobile payments, and thus mobile shopping, come into their own.


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