Taking the Chains off of the Internet Revolution

Oh, this is really great! Now we’ll never have an excuse for forgetting somebody’s birthday. With the Internet revolution moving to wireless, mobile phone users will now have 24-hour Internet access at all times. Whether waiting in line to buy groceries or getting your hair cut, you will be able to order a CD or flowers for that birthday party that’s 20 minutes away.

Note to self: the gift might not get there in time though, but hey, it’s the thought that counts.

At Bell Mobility’s second annual Wireless Internet Conference, held in Toronto at the end or March, Chuck Napier, product manager for Amazon.com Anywhere delivered a keynote speech covering Amazon’s substantial growth and its desire to embrace the move to wireless Internet access.

“Wireless Internet is happening, it is being adopted by the consumer – this is the next big thing,” he said. He added that Amazon has a desire to become the earth’s most customer-centric company. “Anywhere you are, we want to provide the best shopping experience for you.”

According to statistics provided by Napier, Amazon’s customer base has grown from under half a million in 1997 to about 17 million at the end of 1999, the majority of that growth occurring in the last 12 months. An important factor for Amazon, as it is for any company, is its high percentage of repeat customers, close to 75 per cent according to Napier.

“They (customers) have placed trust in the Amazon on-line service,” he said, adding, “we do deliver, even if you are in Madagascar and you order something, it will show up.”

He also attributed the success to a number of other factors, including brand recognition and the depth of products Amazon offers.

The next step, according to Napier, is to take this all to the wireless world. But this is entering into new, uncharted territory.

“How can I make sure it is reliable, secure and useful in a wireless space? You know, I don’t know,” he said.

Napier is not alone in this sentiment. During the opening address, Pierre Blouin, president of Bell Mobility Inc., said: “Make no mistake. We are still in the very early days of the wireless Internet revolution. But even at this stage some immense opportunities are becoming clear.”

Blouin continued, “For one thing, it’s very likely that within the next five years, more people will access the Internet through a wireless device than via a PC.”

Napier agreed, saying there is a business case for Amazon to go wireless because it wants to be able to reach its customers when they are mobile, using what the company calls Amazon.com Anywhere. Though he admitted ease of access is at the core of the on-line business, he said service is paramount. It is about “getting information to them quickly and when they need it,” Napier said.

Moving into a bit of cultural anthropology, Napier divided the mobile e-commerce target market into two main groups, the hunters and the gatherers.

A hunter is someone who hates to go to the mall, wants ease of access and is prone to impulse shopping. The gatherer takes things a bit more slowly, opting to shop around and compare products and prices. Not surprisingly, Napier said the mobile e-commerce market can satisfy both markets. The hunters, for obvious reasons, shop during commercial breaks or while waiting out a traffic jam or airline delay. A gatherer, on the other hand, can get product information while actually at the mall, bypassing sales people, he said.

Napier also addressed the intrinsic limitations of the mobile device. “With the handset, you have to design them with no training needed,” he said. He added that even if a consumer has a manual they probably won’t read it. He added mobile devices are neither easy to read nor to enter data into, so the number of options must be restricted and the navigation must be logical.

Noting that millions of mobile phone users never even bother to program numbers into the speed dial, Napier urged that educating the consumer is key.

“This same [sort of] thing could happen to us in the Internet space, we could have the content, we could have the service and it could be ignored.” He said. “The consumer is fickle.”