Wireless e-commerce not yet connecting

The screens are small and the access somewhat slow, but wireless e-commerce may very well be the next big step in mobile consumer technology.

Despite the convenience of financial services and spontaneous purchasing power in the palm of your hand, wireless e-commerce is still a fledgling technology but, according to Jordan Worth, an analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, the wireless trend will be making waves as soon as the technology catches up with the hype.

“It’s still very early on in the market place,” he said, but added that as more and more users get on board, the sophistication of wireless e-commerce will begin to take a firm hold on the Canadian consumer market.

Worth went on to say that if a company is interested in deploying a wireless arm to its existing business strategy, it would be wise to consider several factors. First, companies should be aware of the standards they write to in order to ensure proper mobile device recognition across a wide market; secondly, the depth of interactivity in applications that service providers are enabling must be taken into account.

“If you’re considering cutting a deal with one of these service providers and time to market is an issue and the robustness of your application is an issue, then you need to look at how the different wireless carriers are planning their wireless e-commerce rollouts – they’re not all doing the same things at the same time,” Worth said.

He stressed that both technology and consumer expectations are essential components in the wireless market.

“The technology is not really there, it’s very slow, the interface is cumbersome and it’s generally not user-friendly. The value in it is mobility,” he said. “It’s a far less robust service and will be far less robust for the foreseeable future, so the carriers need to position this service as a supplement or an add-on service to the big screen, and simply as an add-on service to voice.”

Convenience has become a staple in today’s economy. The less time you spend doing something, the better. It seems that everyone is always on the go, a credo that is essentially the focus of wireless e-commerce.

“One of the things we’re trying to do is make sure that we’re really adding convenience and power to our consumers, especially people who are time-pressed or on the go,” said Mark Dickelman, vice-president, M-Commerce and Wireless at the Bank of Montreal (BMO).

“One of the things that I think is unique about our approach, as I talk to other organizations, is a lot of people are viewing wireless as an extension of their Web presence.” He added that BMO started at “ground zero with a blank sheet of paper,” building “around wireless delivery a comprehensive set of financial services, some leading-edge m-commerce services, and continually adding services and content.”

According to Norm Silins, director of Data Services and E-Commerce with Bell Mobility, “You wouldn’t use it as your sole form of bill payment, account transfer and purchasing stocks, but…people find that the convenience of having the option of doing it on the big screen and doing it on the small screen to be very attractive. In fact, we’ve found that the number of subscribers using our wireless services is virtually doubling every month. It’s really a reflection of convenience.”

With carriers like Bell Mobility providing a wireless, secure socket layer communications infrastructure across a small selection of mobile devices, businesses like Indigo.ca have begun implementing wireless e-commerce as an addition to their Web site.

Convenience aside, according to the Bank of Montreal’s Dickelman and Indigo.ca’s chief technology officer, Jeff Williams, security and mobile device recognition were the two main components to their companies’ mobile wireless deployment.

Both BMO and Indigo.ca partnered with Toronto-based 724 Solutions Inc., citing the company’s experience in the wireless e-commerce area as being the main factor in their decision.

Susan Witteveen, vice-president of e-Commerce for 724, said, “Companies have to look to the right partners; companies have to think carefully about how they’re going to add value by providing their products or services in a wireless fashion. It’s not just about squeezing Web content on to a phone, it’s about taking advantage of the virtues of mobility and being able to provide products and services that lend themselves well to the convenience of portability and putting services around that. How do you add increasing value to consumers who are increasing in control of their worlds?”