global mobile commerceBuying, paying, transacting, banking — these are all part of what we have come to call mobile commerce. With such a broad definition and so many scenarios it’s little wonder that mobile commerce now tops the list of mobile-megatrends. Interestingly, what people want (and the impact on financial institutions, mobile operators and companies across the emerging ecosystem) differs depending on the region where you operate and the opportunities you pursue. An essential read is the 2012 edition of the Mobile Commerce Guide which brings together advice and case studies from senior execs, analysts and organizations including the Mobile Marketing Association. Diarmuid Mallon kicks off this series with a look at

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What is mobile commerce? It is rapidly becoming a mainstream term, but ask a hundred people what it is, and you will get a hundred different answers. Some will talk about accessing your bank account on your phone, others think it’s all about paying for goods or services. And still others are excited about marketing or coupons. Connect the dots, and it’s clear that mobile commerce is in fact all these and more.

It was this multitude of uses and use cases that drove us to publish our first mobile commerce guide in 2011. We wanted to show how broad a topic mobile commerce is, and how the definition of what mobile commerce means really depends on where you are in the world. We also wanted to share how best practice was already being implemented by many companies and deployments across the globe.

A split emerged in how regions approached and adopted mobile commerce. In emerging markets mobile commerce was embraced by both merchants and consumers, filling the gap that had yet to be addressed by the traditional banking services. There consumers used mobile commerce services to transfer money, pay bills and purchase goods and services. In developed markets, it was a different picture. Mobile commerce was primarily focused on mobile banking services and mobile marketing.

A year later and the new 2012 Mobile Commerce Guide documents the spread on mobile commerce — and what mobile commerce has become. At one level, mobile commerce is a huge growth story. A recent study by Juniper Research forecasts that the gross value of physical goods bought and sold via mobile will exceed $78 billion worldwide in 2012. But the excitement is not just about market growth; it’s about the advance of mobile commerce and how the range of services on offer has increased and changed as a result.

(R)evolution in mobile commerce

In emerging markets, the focus has been on P2P money transfer solutions. These solutions have since been extended to support merchants and, in some cases, advanced services such as bill pay or remittances. Typically, these P2P services were offered by mobile operators. So, while these services provided clear benefits for their users, they didn’t always fully address the necessary financial inclusion requirements. this is because the majority of these services were based on SVA (store value accounts), rather than bank accounts. For full financial inclusion, the ideal financial vehicle is a bank account, as it can support services such as interest and loans, and enables the customer to access other financial services.

However, this is changing. In the last year we’ve seen the rise of Mobile Money, also known as Branchless Banking — where banks such as Dutch-Bangla Bank Limited (DBBL) headquartered in Bangladesh, and Standard Bank of South Africa — have used the ubiquity of mobile to service customers and reach far beyond their branch and ATM networks. And all this at a fraction of the cost.

In developed markets, mobile banking initially started as a service aimed at retail customers. Today it is more about meeting the needs of SME and Corporate customers.

For business users mobile banking is focused on providing convenience, allowing customers to check on accounts and transact business on the move and on their mobile devices. Mobile commerce also enables businesses to eliminate cash and paper invoicing from their day-to-day business, paving the way for innovative services enabling mobile payments for cash-on-delivery for wholesalers delivering to small independent stores.

Mobile commerce gets personal

However, companies are not just using mobile commerce to provide customers an additional transactional channel. They are harnessing the power of mobile — an intensely personal, interactive and immediate channel to the customer — to boost customer engagement.

This is a smart strategy since the nature of mobile enables companies to create and deploy a completely new breed of services and encourage new types of interactions that were simply not possible before.

Before the advance of mobile devices and the mobile shopping behavior they power, retailers and shops could own the customer relationship, leaving the brands to observe sales of their product, but never really connect with their customers at a deeper level. Mobile commerce — and the personal exchanges between people and the brands they like —changes all this.

Consumer products (CP) companies across the board are beginning to use mobile commerce to build a  direct relationship with their customers.

At Sybase we are observing first-hand how companies are harnessing mobile commerce to ignite an ongoing exchange with their customers.

CPs are using mobile loyalty as the key mechanism to drive repeat purchases. Leading durable goods companies, brands that produce and sell home appliances and products that consumers generally only buy two or more years, are using the mobile channel to push product hints and tips, thus supporting loyalty programs and cross-sell to build and maintain consumer relationships between purchases.

Frictionless mobile commerce

Mobile has moved our businesses — and our society — into the Age of Pull. The seismic shift to a participatory culture marks a clear departure from the push approach that allowed companies to deliver one-size-fits-all content, services and marketing to a mass-market audience. People are empowered to interact with the companies they choose on the terms they demand, and companies across all sectors are using mobile — and the direct connection to their customers — to engage and listen.

At first, mobile commerce was a simple and defined landscape where banks offered mobile banking and operators offered mobile payments. However, this is no longer the case. Instead, the boundaries between banking services and mobile payments have begun to blur. Many mobile payment services include bill pay – a traditional banking service, and banks are now offering P2P money transfer – which has been the base offering of all mobile payment schemes.

More recently, retail, utilities and consumer products have begun to see the opportunity to use mobile commerce to create a new customer engagement beyond simple marketing and —ultimately — connect directly with their customers.

What is mobile commerce? Where are the boundaries? Will there be a showdown as companies jockey for position to deliver people a broad range of mobile commerce services? These are tough questions indeed. While we have not yet come to a consensus on what mobile commerce is, it is clearly an area of opportunity no business can ignore. It’s also a space destined for significant growth. As more consumers have access to more advanced mobile devices with capabilities such as cameras, GPS and of Near-Field Communications (NFC) that make buying content, goods and services (both physical and digital) a breeze, the way is clear for many more of our daily interactions to end in a transaction and an ongoing ‘conversation’ that can build deeper relationships between purchases.

Editor’s note: The 2012 edition of the Sybase 365 Mobile Commerce Guide draws from  insights and contributions to provide expert advice, case studies and best practice to a broad and growing audience of financial institutions, mobile operators, enterprises and companies seeking to plan and execute mobile commerce services and strategies around the world. DOWNLOAD YOUR COPY TODAY!

Sybase365 Mobile Commerce Guide



Next in the series: Dutch-Bangla Bank Limited (DBBL) discusses how it has combined philanthropic leadership and mobile technology prowess to bring mobile financial services to millions in rural Bangladesh.

About Diarmuid

Diarmuid Mallon, who was instrumental in the Mobile Commerce Guide, is head of Product Marketing for Sybase 365, a company delivering mCommerce, mCRM, Operator Services and Mobile Messaging products and solutions. Before joining Sybase, Diarmuid was a Product Manager at Logica’s Wireless Networks division. He has worked in mobile messaging for more than 16 years, in wide range of roles from Business Development to Product Evangelism. Follow Diarmuid on twitter @diarmuidmallon, and read his blog at