Posts tagged 'LBS'

Facebook not quite “Home” yet on mobile phones

Apparently, Facebook “Home” is not to be, not yet at least.

The Android application launched by Facebook to create an FB overlay on the Home screen of the phone was supposed to be the big bet by FB to control the first touchpoint screen for a smartphone user. But due to poor reviews by initial analysts, Facebook is said to be revamping the FB Home application. The device which was supposed to launch this was HTC One and in US, AT&T was to be the exclusive carrier for this. In UK, operator EE and Orange were planning to launch it. The social network is said to be encouraging the carriers to delay the launch to give the firm more time to create a more palatable user experience.

The battle for the phone user is becoming more intense as time goes by. With smartphones overtaking web users globally, it is of paramount importance for tech firms to own the phone customer and drive more and more smartphone traffic to these firms’ offerings, in order to attract ad revenue and other commerce monetizations.

Without a doubt, Facebook social network application remains one of the top apps on all mobile systems including Apple iOS and Android. But Google, Facebook, wireless carriers and other media are jostling for more and more of user attention on phones as well as real estate on the limited phone screen, which are the next evolution of internet cycle.

Facebook released the following statement on Thursday evening via Engadget: “Following customer feedback, Facebook has decided to focus on adding new customization features to Facebook Home over the coming months. While they are working to make a better Facebook Home experience, they have recommended holding off launching the HTC First in the UK, and so we will shortly be contacting those who registered their interest with us to let them know of this decision. Rest assured, we remain committed to bringing our customers the latest mobile experiences, and we will continue to build on our strong relationship with Facebook so as to offer customers new opportunities in the future.”

htc-first-2

HTC First aka “Facebook Phone”  (Photo: Courtesy / HTC)

After extremely disappointing sales of the HTC First, Facebook will reexamine the Facebook Home before expanding its operating system to more phones in more countries.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has said he would’ve rebuilt Facebook as a mobile exclusive app if he had the chance, so clearly offering a solid mobile experience means a great deal to Facebook. In this regard, the Facebook phone was a brilliant idea and makes a great deal of sense — like Google and Android, a true Facebook phone would allow Zuckerberg & Co. to have complete control over the user experience and ad strategy. The HTC First was the company’s first attempt at such a device — Facebook would focus on software while HTC would focus on hardware — but with the phone failing so soon after its initial release, Facebook will need to take a long look in the mirror. 

Failure of the HTC First may be blamed on Facebook’s decision to make Facebook Home features too accessible to other mobile users on Android and iOS, or maybe Facebook will realize that the Facebook Home features were not that stellar to begin with.

Facebook has fumbled on mobile before, when it launched it’s first mobile site using the mobile browser channel – with poor user feedback on that approach, Facebook later changed course and focused on more cleaner mobile apps, but this was much later in it’s lifecycle; Facebook mobile has a history of bouncing back. The early years of Facebook mobile efforts were limited to working on a common mobile website version of it’s platform addressing multiple platforms like iOS and Android with one approach. It later realized that that approach did not augur well and got into building platform specific Facebook apps, which have been superb hits since.

The last note above take one back to mobile site vs mobile app debate, which continues to simmer in the mobile development world. So far, it seems, the Apps are winning with many firms (eg Financial Times) having switched from a common http://m.xyz-firm.com approach to custom mobile apps for each mobile platform. More on this later in this space.

(with extracts and ideas from International Business Times article dated May 24 by Dave Smith)

May 26th, 2013

The Internet – still an Equalizer ?

Today there is a post in the Wall Street Journal as to how the websites are tracking all user activities, right from location, personal profile, profession, hobbies, likes and dislikes.

Today’s internet is perhaps “too open”, where users information is freely available to retailers, analysts, marketers alike. While this may serve the purpose of “personalizing” offers and deals to consumers, it risks being labeled discriminatory if such information is used to offer different product pricing or search results to consumers. Not to mention the bigger risk of spammers and ID thieves catching hold of such information and launching malicious campaigns against consumers.

A WSJ investigation found that the office products retailer Staples is offering different prices on the same stapler to two different consumers who were just a few miles away.

Retailers are justified in offering different prices to different customers – this is what happens in stores too especially in different stores of the same chain. Retailers argue that local operating costs, real estate pricing, manpower costs and other logistics etc influence local pricing. In that sense, the online differential in pricing is no different than it’s offline cousin.

“But the idea of an unbiased, impersonal Internet is fast giving way to an online world that, in reality, is increasingly tailored and targeted. Websites are adopting techniques to glean information about visitors to their sites, in real time, and then deliver different versions of the Web to different people. Prices change, products get swapped out, wording is modified, and there is little way for the typical website user to spot it when it happens”, says the Journal.

WSJ said that many firms resorted to such price tactics, including Discover Financial, Rosetta Stone, Home Depot etc. Office Depot told WSJ team that they use customers browsing history and geolocation to offer tailored product offers and pricing for online shopping.

Technically, this is all legal, but the boundary line to ethical or discriminatory behaviour is not far. Eg certain racial groups may claim discrimination or local governments may cry foul. It seems that 76% of Americans are opposed to this kind of differential pricing.

But there are advantages too for differential pricing. Eg certain services like movie theatres offer senior citizen and student discounts.

The key takeaways are :

  • the fundamental premise of internet being an unbiased and same-for-all internet is bring eroded now as personalization increases and website behave differently for different people. The INTERNET IS NO LONGER AN EQUALIZER.
  • while differential pricing is normal and legal, it can raise ethical and discriminatory haggles across sections of the society. So retailers need to tread carefully.

What is CellStrat view : Retailers and web commerce firms need to abide by laws and be careful in offering personalized offers and pricing. Tailoring offers based on user information or their location has to be considered in view of the prevailing laws and user acceptance. Otherwise, the online commerce firms risk alienating the consumers who took to the internet to find an equal society, in the first place.

(Excerpted from WSJ article titled “Websites Vary Prices, Deals, Based on Users’ Information” dated 23 Dec 2012)

December 24th, 2012

Map wars

Since the launch of Apple iOS 6, one is seeing major activity in the world of Digital Maps. Both Apple and Google have been duking it out recently on this front. Before the iOS 6 was released, Google Maps was the default map application installed on the iPhones. But map application in recent times has become perhaps the most popular mobile app and hence substantial customer engagement and media sales get initiated with the map experience. The primary fruits of iPhone mapping app were being enjoyed by Google, until iOS 6 came along. With iOS 6 and iPhone 5, Apple decided to take the Map app internal and worked on Apple Maps for this version of iOS, thereby dropping Google Maps as the default Map app on the new iPhone.

In it’s haste to release the Map App along with iOS 6 launch, Apple mapping team seemed to compromise on reliability and accuracy in Apple Maps. The error proved deadly, as the Apple Maps app was widely criticized after iOS 6 was launched, being that rest of the iOS 6 as well as iPhone 5 was much appreciated. Apple Map Apps shows incorrect placement of landmarks and is frustrating mobile users around the world who rely on smartphone maps to guide them around cities.

This resulted in Tim Cook of Apple issuing an apology to Apple customers. Google, with a guilty pleasure, enjoyed the Apple Map criticism. Google has since announced that they are working on a custom Google Maps app for the iOS 6 platform. It is expected to come out before the end of the year.

Why are Map Apps such a big deal after all ? In an App survey conducted by Wireless Technology Forum, Atlanta, Google Maps was rated as the most popular mobile app. That means that navigation and directions via smartphone maps has become the most key use of these phones. One knew that Mapping Apps were popular and widely used, but who would have guessed that Map App is “the” most popular mobile app out there. Especially Google Maps. Obviously, smartphone users really use this app in their daily movements.

Maps are also used for the most cutting-edge of phone applications, that is Location-Based Services or LBS. LBS refers to finding businesses nearby and guiding customer traffic to those businesses. LBS also enables local advertising and shopping. LBS is key aspect of SoLoMo – Social Local Mobile – a concept referring to convergence between local commerce, mobile phones and social shopping.

Maps also facilitate searches now – Search is more relevant if locational aspects are added to it. Search Advertising has been a revolutionary concept and LBS makes Search even more relevant.

When the iOS 6 Apple Maps app faced ridicule, Tim Cook suggested that iPhone customers download Bing or other Map Apps from App Store. Google, of course, had not planned a iOS 6 compatible Map app, until it realized that iPhone users were clamoring for the Google version, after having experienced the cloogy Apple Map App. Apple Map flap has caused many a casualty at Apple office – with many execs including one of the most senior execs, Scott Forstall, being asked to leave. Just today, Apple fired another manager in charge of Map App.

With the Apple Map app mess, other mapping programs have gained eg Embark and Bing Maps.

Mapping wars are front and centre in the smartphone evolution, the various map providers need to check their coordinates in this new war.

November 29th, 2012

How to enable SoLoMo for a commerce firm

SoLoMo (Social Local Mobile) has become the new fad in town for most commerce firms and retailers, as well as technology providers. This concept refers to the idea of enabling hyper-local retail via mobile convergence and providing a social interaction between users and retailers for engagement, sales growth and loyalty.

What are the technologies which enable SoLoMo ? What products provide best of breed solutions in this space ?

Below is a sample list of some of the leading firms / products which offer solutions in this space :-

a) Digby – Leading Mobile Retail convergence solution. They have potentially the strongest Mobile Retail convergence solution and are considered a SoLoMo specialist – Digby solution provides integration between web store / offline store / mobile commerce / social commerce / QR code solution / real time messaging. Digby Localpoint software enables brands to create geo-fences around their stores and other points of interest and embed those geo-fences into the brand’s app

b) Capillary Tech - leading retail CRM / loyalty solution – one of the hottest startups from India, now a global phenomenon. High quality retail CRM / loyalty / retail analytics solution

c) Facebook Connect and Twitter API – for close Social integration to enable Social commerce

d) Pluck from Demand Media – Pluck is interesting as it allows social engagement, social commerce and social loyalty solutions. Pluck enables these concepts via communities, content generation and gamification.

e) Foursquare Enterprise solutions may offer robust gamification solutions –  Foursquare is considered leading gamification firm around communities.

f) Groupon / LivingSocial / Snapdeal / mydala – these firms are known for the Group shopping experience and offer LBS capabilities. These are not products but full-fledged startups in the area of Social Commerce.

g) Antenna Mobile Platform / IBM Worklight / Sybase 365 - These Enterprise Mobility platforms offer Mobile app development which can enable a retailer to publish engagement and commerce apps for its customers. This includes Mobile POS on smartphones / tablets, mobile wallet and in-store apps.

h) Telibrahma – Telibrahma has solutions in the areas of virtual reality and LBS, which empower the consumer to have a closer interaction with the retailers. Telibrahma LBS relies on Bluetooth or Wi-Fi proximity marketing to allow retailers to engage the audience in the nearby vicinity.

i) ZipDial – ZipDial provides an intuitive missed call voting and feedback system, which allows a retailer to leverage the mobile shoppers in the store to respond to a retailer survey instantaneously. This helps retailer drive business intelligence and customer feedback about the store experience.

Here are some relevant links in this area :
www.digby.com, http://www.capillarytech.com, http://www.pluck.com/, http://www.groupon.com, http://telibrahma.com/, www.zipdial.com

A combination of the above technologies / products will enable the SoLoMo experience for a retailer or service business.

CellStrat’s next conference, the India Digital Forum on 07th Feb in N. Delhi, will address a lot of the SoLoMo topics and technologies outlined above. Be sure to book your seat today and hear from top speakers in the Social Commerce space.

November 27th, 2012

Apple iPhone 5 is here : CellStrat opinion

As if you have not heard enough about iPhone 5 already, here is more of it :)

Apple announced iPhone 5 on Sept 12th. The other big thing that happened that day was Quantitative Easing version 3 announcement by US Federal Reserve – one wonders, it was a synchronized announcement – just kidding.. Certainly, some market analysts have said that iPhone 5 may do more for US GDP growth than Fed’s QE3..amazing..

Well, intentional or not, both the announcements have a dramatic impacts – QE3 will accelerate the stock market rise around the world, fuel more inflation etc. Apple announcement will lead to Apple maintaining it’s hegemony in the smartphone ecosystem. I know, I know, some of you are on side of the table which is less than enamoured by the new iPhone 5. However, our take is that the ecosystem of Apple is much too strong and still underestimated by most. The vertical integration of iTunes, Macs, iPhones, iPads, licensed content in there, seamless charging via iTunes, cross-device synch capabilities are so intense and so transformational in the tech world, that few can match up with Apple prowess over the marketplace. Apple ran out of online inventory of iPhone 5 in one hour of opening the sales..validation enough of a huge pent-up demand out there.

Lack of NFC or some other popular features, now commonplace in other smartphones, will not deter iPhone 5 in creating breakthrough success once again for Apple sales. What most people fail to realize about Apple is that it does not usually toe the line created by others – it creates new models which, in many cases, become the benchmark over time. Coming back to NFC, Apple did bundle a feature called Passbook in the new iPhone 5 – a loyalty and coupon management feature – this is not payment enabled but it could evolve into a Digital Wallet. Many leaders like eBay, Square, Paypal are making do without NFC in Mobile Payments and quite successfully at that. It is likely that NFC may never become the mainstream mobile payment tech if Apple and others listed here do not push it.

As to what Apple iPhone 5 does pack, it has a laundry list of neat features :

LTE (4G capable), Thinner, Lighter, bigger screen (4 inch diagonally), all new Apple-designed A6 chip, better retina display, improved camera (although megapixels remain at 8 megs), enhanced HD video recording, 5 rows of icons on the screen, improved Siri assistant, new lightning connector, new Apple mapping app, better iCloud integration, 700,000 apps, new iOS 6 OS, Passbook loyalty feature, the list goes on and on.

To view all iPhone 5 features, click here.

As far as we can visualize, we still feel demand for iPhone 5 will be back-logged and people will go gaga over this device the world over. Apple mobile leadership is far from being threatened, not until they make major blunders or others truly can provide a neat vertically integrated ecosystem. So far, we see only Amazon as being anywhere close to providing the vertical ecosystem with Kindle platform. Samsung tried but it is missing many major components for creating a complete ecosystem, music partnerships to begin with, among other things. Google does not try as their focus is entirely different – to monetize via search engines on Android devices.

So – for now, it is Apple’s world to rule in the mobile arena, until somebody else “does an Apple” on them.

September 17th, 2012

Indian e-commerce – nuances and challenges

Everybody and their grandma in India now knows that Indian e-commerce market is set to explode – it is expected to go from current 7 billion dollar (of which 6 billion is online travel alone) to 40 billion by 2015 – ie in 3-4 years.

In view of this, dozens of new ecommerce startups have launched in India and some of them are increasing market share at a breakneck speed. Some of these include Flipkart, Snapdeal, Exclusively.in, yebhi.com, babyoye.com, myntra.com and several others from large brands as well as startups.

But Indian ecommerce is not like that in the West – where online credit card payment and cheap shipping are the order of the day. India has presented these online commerce vendors with its own unique challenges – eg. :

  • COD : customers are reticent to use credit cards online. COD or Cash on Delivery is the preferred method for payment for most online sales.
  • Free Shipping : Indian online customers do not want to pay for shipping – as a result, Indian ecommerce vendors have to bite the bullet on shipping as well.
  • Categories for online shopping : Indian customers so far are mostly interested in online travel purchases – but when it comes to other products like toys, baby products, household items, books, music CDs and such, physical stores still take more than 99% of the customer pie. Of course, now electronics, books and apparel are some products gaining traction in online sales.
  • Where are the profits ? : Of course, it is well known that most India ecommerce startups are taking a loss on online sales – just to grow market share. One expects a market shakeout on this sooner or later and only the strongest (and well funded) ones will survive this fight to the top. We feel that the shakeout will begin to happen over the course of next year with several pulling the plug on their ventures or being bought out by other stronger ones.

Above list highlights some major challenges for the Indian ecommerce players. Enter Indian Jugaad – or Indian version of “make it work somehow“. New services like Gharpay and chottu.in have been launched to tackle the COD cash collection challenges, as well as product delivery in some cases. These services are building networks of collection agents in various circles or cities and provide Cash on delivery collection services as well as product delivery for the major vendors like Redbus.in, Myntra and Flipkart. Within months of launch, these services have signed  up many leading online vendors as customers.

Well – one has to admit – when it comes to India, it is all about “Jugaad Karo“. In India, if there is a problem, there is always a “Jugaad solution” lurking somewhere – it is upto creative entrepreneurs to find such gaps and exploit them to make new ventures.

December 14th, 2011

Welcome to the Cloud !!

At the Apple’s WWDC event on June 06, 2011, Steve Jobs unveiled the “iCloud” – Apple’s answer to the Cloud Computing fever which sweeps the world. The stock of Salesforce.com – the first B2B SAAS service which houses all your CRM and ERP data in those massive server farms around the world, has gone vertical since its debut. Cloud Computing, SAAS (Software as a Service) and Online Media Lockers are real and happening at a breakneck speed. Amazon and Google released their online music and media lockers to much fanfare and Apple has followed suit with it’s iCloud offering.

Apple iCloud

Businesses have adopted online CRM and ERP applications offered by Salesforce.com, Oracle and Microsoft. Microsoft Office 365 – Microsoft’s online Office suite is a Cloud-based product and is due to be debuted end of June ’11. Business applications and documents find their new home in the Cloud and the transaction models have evolved from licensed software to Subscription services.

The whole idea of Cloud-based Apps and Content envisages universal access from all devices including PCs, phones, tablets etc (TVs to be added in near future). In other words, smartphones and tablets are integral part of the access channel for Cloud services. The front-end in Mobile phones and tablets in such cases are either Apps or Mobile websites, underscoring the relationship of Mobile Apps/Web with the Cloud. Speaking simply, a mobile app may simply be a door to a cloud-based service, product or content.

Such cloud infrastructure, of course, assumes high availability of networks and fast speeds as in case of 3G or 4G services. So far, these issues have not been a major bottleneck in the rise of Cloud Computing.

Cloud Computing in the consumer arena has a profound impact on Media and Content industries. The illustration below depicts these changes.

Impact of the Consumer Cloud

 

June 10th, 2011

Event Roundup from Mobile Apps Conclave, Bangalore

Mobile Apps Conclave – the conference organized by CellStrat concluded successfully on 29th April, ‘11 at The Chancery Pavilion Hotel, Bangalore. The Conference saw tremendous interest with a large no of audience from all over India. The star-studded speaker lineup and intuitive content on Mobile Apps and Web fueled interest in this event. The theme for this event was : “The Mobile Web Disruption – Life, Media and Business get Appified”.

In addition to Bangalore, audience came from cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Ahmedabad and Chennai, both from brands and senior management of companies as well as the developer community.

More than 200 blue-chip audience participated in this event on the hottest topic in modern times – Mobile Apps, App Stores and the Mobile Internet. Most brands, mobile device manufacturers, app store and app development firms were present to learn about the Business of Mobile Apps and Web.

Details of the event and photographs are available at http://www.mobileappsconclave.com.

Event Brief :
The Mobile Web – the new name of Growth around the world. Mobile Internet Tsunami – as many refer to it.

Mobile is the industry of this decade. Mobile has taken world by storm. The feature phone growth is fast evolving into smartphone growth driven by the emergence and popularity of The Mobile Web and those tiny ubiquitous Apps – hundreds of thousands of them literally. Mobile Web is upending so many industries, it is breathtaking to say the least. Many of these businesses are succumbing to the trend which the venerable firm Apple started – businesses like news and media, advertising, gaming, productivity, publishing, telecom, entertainment, commerce, financial services or healthcare..the list goes on and on. Whoever you are, wherever you are – either have an App and Mobile Media strategy or be prepared to loose substantial traction in the marketplace – because, indeed, your customers are App savvy even if you are not.

You are on the road and want to check nearby promotions, there are many apps for that; you want to track your supply chain, many apps for that too; track Social Network updates; many apps there as well; there is even an app for Confessing to God. Apps are orchestrating the growth in intelligent smartphones; next playground is Tablet followed by Computers. Are you ready for the brave New World of Mobile and Mobile Tablets ? Are you ready for the Mobile Web revolution ?

Conference Sessions :
Here are some notes from the Keynotes and Panels that transpired at this event.

In the morning session, there was an intuitive keynote by Pratapa Bernard, Vice President and Head – COE – Data Services (Emerging Markets) at Vodafone. He addressed the impact of the Mobile Web and Apps on the modern consumer and businesses. He mentioned the imperative need to focus on user experience and not technology itself citing the example of Apple etc. He went on to say that 80% of internet access in India in 2015 will be from mobile devices.

Next came a panel on “Mobile Apps go mainstream – Content, Engagement and Lifestyle on Mobile Apps”. This panel discussed the Mobile App revolution and how Content and Entertainment is being delivered via Apps. The panel speakers included Rajiv Kumar (CEO – RockeTalk), Deepak Swamy (Head – Flypp App Store, Infosys), Sanjay Bhasin (VP-Getit Info Services), Vikram Tanna (VP – STAR Digital), Rajesh Reddy (CEO, July Systems) and Narasimha Suresh (CEO – TELiBrahma). This panel focussed on App monetization and how developers are finding it a challenge to monetize their apps. This panel also discussed the need to “Indianize” the Western business models, cost structures as well as offerings to make them work in India. On HTML5, the panel members said this new standard will be big against Mobile apps but the “when” is not clear yet.

After the first panel, there was an interesting keynote by InMobi (top Mobile Advertising firm) executive Sridhar Ranganathan (VP-Product Management) on how market pressures are forcing firms like InMobi to push the boundaries of creativity with immersive advertising and the need to think of Mobile Ads like mini-apps. He mentioned the need to un-learn the PC and focus on Mobile as a separate experience.

In the afternoon session, there was an innovative keynote by Sunny Rao, MD – India and APAC of Nuance Communications. Sunny spoke about some of the innovations in Mobile Web world surrounding Speech Technology, Voice-based Social Networking and automotive vehicles as mobile channels. Sunny’s keynote was followed by an interesting panel on innovations in Mobile Apps and Mobile Web. This panel had some true Mobile innovators in Amiya Pathak of ZipDial, Kalyan Manyam of MojoStreet, Indus Khaitan of Bitzer Mobile and Soumitra Sharma of IDG Ventures. This panel discussed specialized vertical Apps which are popping up in industries like Payments and Commerce, Social Gaming, Healthcare and Education.

The Mobile Innovations panel was followed by a Startup showcase where Sriram Mohan, Associate Editor at YourStory.in helped introduce some startups which are creating innovative business models in the Mobile App ecosystem.

The last (but not the least) panel was on Emerging Devices and Tablets. Advent of Apple iPad has opened a whole new world of possibilities and truly heralds a world of post-PC era. Prabha Aithal, CTO at CanvasM moderated a panel of speakers which included Alap Ghosh of Mobango (App Store), Pradeep Rao of Research in Motion, Ashish Gupta of Helion Ventures and Dr Sharad Jaiswal of Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs. This panel discussed the impact that the tablet and emerging devices are having on the ecosystem. Emerging Devices is a hot new area and is seeing digitization of content at a blistering pace from a variety of industry verticals like publishing, entertainment, retail, media etc..

Conference Partners :
Overall, it was an action-packed conference with active participation from speakers and audience. Partners included Presentation Sharing Partner authorSTREAM on which the presentations by CellStrat, event speakers, exhibitors and partners can be found. The Mobile App Partner, Hazel Media provided an event app for this conference. Whereas the Mobility Partner, MobiVite published a Mobile WAP site for the same.

InMobi was the Platinum Sponsor for this event. AgileCO was the Gold Sponsor. Other supporters included partners like MOMO Bangalore, The Morpheus and Indian Angel Network (IAN). Media Partners include the online media firm YourStory.in and TelecomLead.

YourStory.in was a Premium Partner for this event and it provided online media visibility as well as Anchor support for the event.

Mobile Solutions Expo :
This conference also saw an interesting exhibition on Mobile Solutions where some innovative app companies exhibited their apps and solutions. This Expo dazzled the audience with some interesting apps and solutions in the Mobile space. The exhibitors included WINIT, Nanostuffs, RockeTalk, Bitstream, Softtrends, MobiVite and some others.

For photos and other details from the event, check the event website at : http://www.mobileappsconclave.com.

Shyam Kamadolli (Director – Fidelity Growth Partners India) was one of the attendees and has some intuitive notes from this conference on his blog : http://skamadolli.wordpress.com/2011/04/29/india-mobile-apps/.

May 16th, 2011

Local Search and Coupons explode : the rise of Groupon

Much is being talked about the rise of Groupon, LivingSocial and other such Daily Deal / Group Shopping outfits which have emerged on the scene within the last 1 to 2 years. Many stats claim that Groupon may be the fastest growing company in history. What is the big deal about Local Search and why is it so hot ? In this article, we examine this trend and the factors driving its explosive growth.

Groupon is changing the face of Commerce

Groupon, LivingSocial and many other like firms have figured out the secret sauce in Group Shopping experience. Group Shopping is not new or innovative in any fashion. Many outfits tried this in the prior dot com craze but it did not take off. Why now ? It’s the rise of Social Networks and Mobile Connectivity – something that we often refer to as “Mobile Social” or “Social Mobile”. Between the Facebooks and Twitters of the world and breakneck growth of Mobile phones, we are looking at Group Shopping proliferation like never before. The basic idea of Group Shopping is obviously that such sites promise to increase the foot traffic to local retailers and merchants by offering daily deals to scores of public. By spreading word about such deals using Mobile Apps, Social Networks and general Buzz Marketing, such sites have grown rapidly.

Groupon is said to have a $25 billion valuation already. Groupon is, of course, rumored to be working on an IPO at this valuation. Groupon had, earlier, rebuffed a $6 billion offer of acquistion from Google!

Late last year, LivingSocial accepted a $175 million investment from Amazon. Certainly, the big internet firms are watching this space with keen interest and would like to take part. Facebook, not to be left behind in this hot area, is about to launch its daily deals service in some cities across US.

The business model deployed by firms like Groupon and LivingSocial is to hire local sales staff in all major metropolitan areas and send coupons for local retailers to audience in the respective cities. With intuitive Mobile Apps on iPhone, Android and other platforms, sending such deals has become easier than ever. So we have the business model and we have the distribution via Mobile phones and emails – in sum total, we have the secret sauce of Group Shopping and modern commerce.

Group Shopping getting crowded

The problem with such Group shopping experience is that there is low barrier to entry. All it takes is a big field sales force in major cities, cool mobile apps and websites and word of mouth marketing. As a result one sees such models cropping up daily, almost at the rate of one new firm per day. Who will win this area eventually ? So far Groupon is winning it and so is LivingSocial. Others are either not that well known or are too new to make a dent. That is why Google tried to buy out Groupon rather than invest in its own model ( After the Groupon rebuff though, Google decided to launch its own daily deals business under the brand Google Offers ).

While others are new to the market or not that well known, eventually this field will be dominated by firms which can continue to grow rapidly and build out the sales capabilities in cities nationwide. Ultimately, this will be a business about economies of scale. Likely winners include Groupon, LivingSocial (with its Amazon backing), Facebook and Google. Most other firms will not be able to reach the economies of scale needed to succeed in this area.

Not all is hunky-dory in Group Shopping

Collective buying is touted as Win-Win for all. There is nothing farther from the truth. Many retail partners of Groupon and such sites have complained of squeezed profit margins, shift in customer buying patterns and constant bickering with Groupon sales teams who are trying to sell them on deals and driving down prices. Consumers have often found, much to their chagrin, that prices offered on Group Shopping sites, were higher than what they would get otherwise. Moreover, often times such sites highlight discounts that customers can get any way through other means.

The retailers are becoming savvy on Groupon and are requiring a lot of fine print and exclusions on Group deals, things which consumers usually miss why buying such deals and tend to suffer later. In some cases, consumers who bought these deals have found that there are exclusion days or spa appointments are sold out for a long time. This area is getting messy for sure, where all stakeholders – daily deal sites, retailers and consumers are playing the negotiation ball harder and harder.

Group Shopping craze comes to India

After seeing the breakneck growth of Groupon, firms in India and China were quick to copy the model. India has seen dozens of such sites crop up – prominent among these are SnapDeal, KhojGuru, SoSasta (acquired by Groupon), BuzzInTown etc. Groupon did not waste time in expanding internationally – in China, it launched GaoPeng.com in partnership with Alibaba founder Jack Ma. In India, Groupon scooped up local firm SoSasta.com.  “Collective buying is in its infancy in India, Israel and South Africa and we see strong potential,” said Groupon’s president and COO Rob Solomon, “Groupon is shaping the way local merchants market themselves in every corner of the world.”

But growth in India is not a cakewalk and differs vastly from that seen in the West. India has less than 10% internet penetration (broadband penetration being around 1%) and less than 10% smartphone penetration – both of which are the primary drivers of success for firms like Groupon in the west. In India, commerce is dominated by the local retailers and merchants who control more than 90% of the shopping market share. Groupon / SoSasta are using India-specific models like variations of Cash-on-delivery (COD) where cash can be picked from homes for deals purchased. Moreover, the margins in India are much smaller than those in the West for Group Shopping firms. Also India already counts more than a dozen such outfits (or similar to a large extent), so competition is already intense for what is still a small market for Group Shopping.

Firms like SnapDeal have become popular in India touting vacation packages, spa experiences and high-end fashion products. Bottomline is that, in India, group shopping has still some ways to go before it becomes a substantial revenue opportunity. Firms which can last and build scale for a long time in India will ultimately be the ones which win. The usual winners from the west like Groupon, Facebook and Google will likely do well in India over time as these firms have the heft to ride out slow growth typical in markets like India.

Daily Deal innovations

Group Shopping is about to enter Phase 2. Groupon is fervently preparing for its most ambitious venture yet: the launch of a new mobile application that the company hopes will change when and how society chooses to eat, shop and play. Groupon is about to launch an app called Groupon Now which will have just two functions : “I’m hungry” and “I’m bored” – on clicking any of these, the user will be presented offers for nearby cuisines or entertainment experiences as the case may be. By simplifying the user experience in this intuitive way, Groupon aims to capture the Commerce market even further – this will likely solve the problem of perishable food in restaurants or empty seats at a show – wherein the merchant publishes last minute offers on Groupon Now. It is foreseeable that these two ideas will become standard buttons on some smartphones of the future (just like Facebook has become on some phones). It won’t be long until we find out if Groupon Now is the future of local commerce; the mobile app launches in April.

LivingSocial, on it’s part, has an option where if a user gets three friends to buy the deal, the original user gets the deal free – this is about reference shopping. The Collective Buying area will continue to see experimentation and new players for now, or at least until those lofty market valuation increases start to stabilize.

March 30th, 2011

Does Mobile Web fit your Integrated Media Strategy ?

Mobile Apps and Web have taken the world by storm. Certainly, Apple deserves credit for orchestrating the Mobile Web experience when it created the iPhone and its App Store. In the process, Apple unleashed the creative energy of hundreds of thousands of Mobile developers worldwide. As of last count, Apple App Store counts 350,000 Apps in the store. With the launch of the iPad tablet, Apple popularized the Tablet computer category and now lot of developers are developing Apps for the Tablet version. Tablet has started what most refer to as the post-PC era. Certainly firms like Microsoft, HP and Intel are in lot of trouble as many consumers and businesses are going the Tablet way instead of upgrading or buying regular PCs and laptops. Now Apple is trying to bring the App experience with its launch of the MAC App Store.

Mobile Web is the latest and greatest Media channel today. It is a most apt media channel for a variety of reasons which we will explain a little later in this post.

Are the various Media firms and Brand Marketers prepared to adjust to this titanic shift of Mobile-based Media ? Do Mobile Apps and Web even belong in a firm’s Integrated Media portfolio ? We will attempt to answer these questions below.

Today media consists of various channels :

Media Channels

 How does Mobile Web fit in this scheme ? The schematic below elaborates the various Digital and Mobile Advertising formats :

Digital Media Channels 

 Consider this (taking Indian context here) :

  • There are 770 million Mobile Subscriptions today (out of a total population of 1.2 billion people) – granted only 550 million are Active Mobile Subscribers : still almost 45% of Indian population are active Mobile Subscribers
  • India has less than 10% internet penetration
  • Mobile is the first and only communications tool for most Rural and Semi-Urban Audience in India
  • Mobile is personal, has context, is location-aware and is always ON
  • Admittedly 90% of Indian mobile market is comprised of feature phones, leading to SMS as the dominant marketing channel in India. But the fastest growth rate is now seen in Smartphone uptake – with acceleration in sales of cheaper smartphones from the likes of MicroMax, Lava etc in addition to established Brands like Nokia, Samsung etc. Mobile Web is now proliferating throughout the Indian consumer class much more rapidly than the feature phone growth.
  • The 3G launches this year will only accelerate the move to Broadband Mobile Services (think Mobile Web with much superior user experience and faster speeds)
  • The post-PC era may have started with Tablets taking over the role of laptops and computers. Many leading businesses and business execs are using tablets for business travel instead of their laptops now.
  • Print Media and Book Publishers are rapidly shifting en masse to Mobile Apps and Mobile eReaders as the delivery channel.
  • People are increasingly consuming media, content and advertising on Mobile phones and tablets.

Given the above advantages – Mobile can be a top Media and Marketing Channel for any Agency or Marketer today in India, much better than the Internet at least.

Now how many Brands and Media Agencies in India have actually integrated Mobile in their portfolio ? Our research indicates that most Media Agencies and Brands in India are yet to include Mobile as a captive Media channel (more on this in our upcoming Research Report : “Mobile Apps Innovation Report for India“. Contact us for details). Though many firms have tried the SMS and VAS marketing route in India, the future now lies in capturing the Mobile Web and Mobile App Media market which is developing rapidly in India.

Our upcoming conference on Mobile Apps (April 29th) – the “Mobile Apps Conclave – Bangalore” will address the entire gamut of topics on Mobile Web and Mobile Apps. Do not forget to register – there are some early registration promotions going on right now.

March 7th, 2011

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