In 2018 in the U.S., e-commerce was about 40% of overall retail sales; some reports actually have it significantly lower than that. It’s unquestionably a growth space, however: in the U.S. market, e-commerce and mobile sales — both in-app and purchases made from cell phones — went up 15% from ‘17 to ‘18, and 18% globally.
So, if you’re a time-pressed executive, or an every day practitioner, who has various demands, it can be hard to find the time to invest deeply in a mobile strategy, especially if more of your legacy options (i.e. your brick and mortar stores) are performing well and need time and attention.
Sure, sure — inherently you know everyone seems to have their cell phone at all times, and maybe your kids do every single thing under the sun on it. But your revenue seems to primarily and consistently emerge from other channels. Business is, for better or worse, very short-term in nature. Shouldn’t you continue to cultivate those tried-and-true channels and get the most from them?
Well, yes — but yes with a heaping side of “no” on the plate as well.
Mobile is increasingly an important channel. McKinsey recently called the shift to mobile for organizations “the next great enterprise IT shakeup,” noting that 90% of the top 50 technology companies globally have announced significant mobile initiatives in just the past 24 months, including 138 announcements of mergers, joint ventures, and product launches. Mobile is a big deal. It’s getting bigger. And it’s changing how companies operate. It’s threatening the very baselines of some business models, even.
Let’s talk about market threats to existing businesses
We can start with some of the bigger, more obvious examples:
- AirBNB was a digital/mobile-first play; by March 2019, consumers spent more on AirBNB lodging than on Hilton, meaning AirBNB — founded in August 2008 — owns about 20% of the world lodging market in 11 years.
- Uber and Lyft, now both public companies, did not quite destroy the rental car market — you can find IG-and-Twitter-friendly charts that seem like they did, but the data is often misleading — but both major ride-sharing options, as well as some localized ones, have put a major dent in car rentals both U.S. and globally. (Personal reflection: I was in Pittsburgh last weekend for a wedding, easily could have rented a car, and did not. Uber’ed everywhere. It probably ended up cheaper, all-in.)
- Venmo was such a threat to the big banking establishment that, by early 2017, banks were trying to develop their own insta-pay options. One of the main developments by the big banks was Zelle, but as The Wall Street Journal has noted, “no one says ‘Zelle me’ to their friends.”
There are industries you might think cannot be disrupted. Maybe air travel? Sure, there’s no real mobile alternative to building planes — but in terms of mobile solutions to common travel hassles? Disruption is happening there. You’re increasingly seeing real-time flight information in-app, as well as automated rebooking (sometimes with the aid of a bot), and the easy bundling of hotel, insurance, car rental (or rideshare options!), and more with flight purchase.
What about the historically old-school financial services world? Mobile is upending things there too. Ever heard of “fintech?” Venmo is one example, but increasingly big financial institutions are going “mobile-first” with their products, realizing that it’s the best way to reach different generations now.
Oh, and another historically old school industry upended by mobile: telecommunications. It’s being completely reshaped by 5G, mobile tech, and new data plan options. Potentially a game changer for global service providers, 5G will allow them to implement a whole set of new value-based services, such as virtual reality, autonomous cars, streaming to high-definition devices, Internet of Things and Machine to Machine infrastructure. All of these are promising developments which will drive additional revenue. These services could be revolutionary for an industry that has traditionally struggled with low revenue growth and ever-increasing data traffic consumption, per Cisco VNI 2018. The latter has led service providers to invest capital into the network to sustain and meet that traffic growth, but without receiving the revenue associated with said growth. 5G could be the exciting next frontier for better revenue models.
What’s happening in all these cases is that the most effective brands with mobile are meeting their customers where they are and giving them personalized experiences on their most-used device. That’s the crux of a successful mobile approach. Even if you’ve never done a single thing with mobile experience, you can rise quickly if you know who your customers are and what they expect from you.
Why businesses need to think about this mobile shift more
Because it’s becoming a reality. Those under 30, soon to be your biggest consumers, are spending more and more time on mobile. That’s the undercurrent of these disruptive business models. The market threat of mobile is powered by the sheer usage of mobile. If you’re not on-board with that strategically by now, you are behind.
Mobile apps are also a place that you, as a brand, can have intimate, personalized conversations without distraction with your consumers. That’s not necessarily possible on Facebook, Instagram, or via email. In today’s world of constant competition for the mindshare of your customers, mobile apps can be your most direct and personalized approach.
The first steps you should take
But if you don’t have the building blocks of a mobile strategy, and you’re only recently realizing the potential threat to your market/vertical from mobile, it’s better to start small, with effective, repeatable building blocks, before you branch into the “bigger” strategic plays.
Mobile market disruption is incredibly tangible; at the end of 2018, Entrepreneur even claimed it’s coming for “virtually every industry.” You see a few examples above, and that will only continue to be the reality.
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