A Moving Target: The Mobile-Commerce Customer

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The race for dominance in mobile commerce (m-commerce) has begun. The promise of the technology will not be fully realized, however, if companies simply make their existing online services available through wireless devices. Successful players in the m-commerce market space will take a much broader view of the technology, the market and consumers.

M-commerce is not a new distribution channel, a mobile Internet or a substitute for PCs. Rather, it is a new aspect of consumerism and a much more powerful way to speak with consumers. Unleashing the value of m-commerce requires understanding the role that mobility plays in people’s lives today. That calls for a radical shift in thinking. Companies that spent decades understanding consumer-buying psychology traditionally assumed that specific products could satisfy discrete consumer needs. Now, they will need to define consumers by their fundamental life intentions (the life aspirations members of the target group share and the experiences they seek to fulfill their identity). Companies will need to assemble the components of a total solution, some elements of which might be far from their traditional businesses.

If capitalizing on the promise of m-commerce requires a deep understanding of consumer behavior, then significant opportunities arise not just for providers of telecommunications services — the early leaders in this market — but also for companies that have a rich and thorough knowledge of consumer behavior. Good examples of such companies are leaders in the consumer packaged-goods industry such as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble and Kraft Foods — or retail organizations such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy.

Consider the following hypothetical scenario that illustrates how a company could leverage its knowledge of consumer behavior to create killer applications in the m-commerce arena. Imagine a brand well positioned to satisfy the life intentions of the youth market: Let’s call it “Soda X.”

What if Soda X built a “wireless window,” or portal, for trend-setting young people? The Soda X wireless window would allow consumers to access an individually tailored list of products and services anywhere, anytime. It would be a natural community-building device and would define users even as it attracted them. By exploiting the permanent virtual link between the user and the wireless window, the service would capture real-time, location-specific information about the user’s interests and priorities.

Imagine a young consumer named Tommy, a high school senior in Chicago.

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