mobile commerce musings

Most (if not all) on-demand companies would never have existed were it not for smartphones. Mobile phones allow us to satisfy the need for instant gratification and on-demand applications because they're always with us. Sometimes, it's for the better (check in for your Southwest flight exactly 24 hours before) and sometimes it's for the worse (checking work email when out at dinner with your partner).

Of course, a big part of the power of mobile is being able to pay with your phone, not necessarily directly with Apple Pay but even just to be able to store mobile card credentials and then easily access/add/change them in apps. That's what makes the Uber experience feel so frictionless - get in, ride and get out. However, again with the notable exception of Apple Pay on the iPhone and Apple Watch, I'm not aware of how people are using some of the unique features of a smartphone to enable commerce. These include:

  • ubiquity
    • it's always on you (except of course when the battery is dead)
    • it's always on others (battery exception as above)
    • US smartphone penetration was 76.6% in early 2015 according to Comscore
  • camera
  • contacts
  • location

You could argue that some of these features can also be accessed on the web, which is true, but in no way are all these features as accessible and accurate as they are on mobile. Also, you're hardly going to whip out your laptop at an in-person retail experience. Given that, here's a first pass at some products that I think could make for interesting mobile commerce ideas:

  1. pay with friends
    • You pay the full cost of an item and then add friends who are supposed to chip in for the item from your contact list. The cost gets automatically split and you get refunded back to your bank account directly through ACH. I could even see this turning into a reverse credit card lottery game for credit card reward optimizers. Among a group of friends, everyone's vying to get their credit card to be the one that "wins" because they'll earn all the rewards, whether cash back, travel miles, etc. It can be an ongoing game that tracks stats among friend groups and amplifies engagement through other features. 
  2. pay by picture
    • Snap a picture of a receipt with your camera, which then OCRs the info and allows you to tip and confirm payment. This would be nice at busy restaurants or bars because you wouldn't have to wait for a server or bartender who's slammed with requests from other customers, especially if you're in a rush. There are some problems here in that it's now on an honor system. That might be solved by also having you manage the order through an app (a la Coaster or Open Table pay), guaranteeing that the venue has your card info and authorization for some specified period of time. If you walk away without paying, the card can still automatically be charged. This is a tricky thing to get right from a UI and experience perspective though.
  3. pay at a location
    • At major venues like stadiums or arenas, people tend to get spendy because of food, beverage and merchandise. They also often buy these tickets online. Detecting your availability at a specific location for an event could automatically launch a catalogue specifically for you and for that event and allow you to buy those items from the comfort of your seat. At an appropriate moment for a break/whenever you get a ready notification, you go to a separate area where you can just scan your phone and unlock a locker with all of your purchases inside. No waiting in lines, no receipts and it gets automatically charged to your card. This one clearly requires the most operational work but if it leads to greater and more frequent spend, it might still be worth it. It could also be considered a premium feature that's only unlockable by people with elite credit cards such as an AmEx Platinum.

If any of you are aware of companies that are doing similar things or have other interesting plays in this mobile commerce world, I'd love to hear about them so please send my way.