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Business  1, Jul 2014

Echelon 2014: Are business leaders ready for mobile consumers?

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Industry leaders discuss how mobile commerce, and the mobile consumers that come with it, are changing the way business is done

As mobile commerce takes centre stage in Asia, are business leaders in the Asian markets prepared to enter the mobile space and engage their customers? This is a question many entrepreneurs and businesspeople grapple with. It was also raised by industry leaders at Echelon 2014. Moderated by Scott Bales, a thought leader in Digital Shift and Mobility, the panel members included:

  • Anthony Tan (Founder and Group CEO, GrabTaxi)
  • Jean Claude Donato (Regional Director, Head of Mobile APAC, eBay)
  • Edward Keonwoo Lee (Head of International Business, VCNC)
  • Do Tuan Anh (Founder and CEO, Appota)
  • Junde Yu (VP APAC, App Annie)
  • User-centrism and data-driven performance
    Opening up the discussion, Anthony Tan of GrabTaxi talked about the challenges in developing a mobile app that could fit into taxi drivers’ context, enabling them to remain connected and book jobs, even while having family time or during toilet breaks.

    Edward Lee of VCNC, which has developed the couples app, shared how the app enables couples to communicate privately through a convenient channel.

    Junde Yu of App Annie (data analytics dashboard for apps) talked of macro trends witnessed, with major brands and companies developing apps to maintain a mobile presence. Commenting on the use of mobile apps, he observed that, “Smartphones, unlike desktops, create a larger total addressable market of consumers to engage.”

    On the same note, Jean Donato of eBay explained how eBay leverages on mobile technologies to help Asian merchants advertise their products to millions of customers. He stated that large technology companies are extremely data-driven in order to generate performance for both customers and merchants.

    He noted that eBay’s users prefer shopping at specific times, enabling merchants to optimise their offerings and services throughout the day. According to him, mobile consumers are context-sensitive when using mobile apps.

    Monetising mobile solutions
    A popular question posed to the panel was how they monetised mobile apps, and the challenges involved in developing their business model. Do Tuan Anh of Appota observed that:

  • traditional consumers are less demanding than mobile consumers
  • traditional consumers also have less interaction with sellers compared to mobile consumers
  • loyalty is stronger in traditional consumers, while mobile consumers have access to more information about other brands and are less loyal
  • Lee noted that mobile applications have to meaningfully engage with their customers’ context, citing Between’s experience with couples seeking new ideas for dates and how Between sought to activate consumers. His point was that businesses need to be aware of their customers’ context and use that understanding to engage and activate them. Donato emphasised that as long as meaningful service is offered, businesses will be able to monetise in various ways. People are willing to pay a premium as long as the service is excellent.

    Tan gave the example of how telcos in Southeast Asia charge for minutes of talk-time using cards. He adopted this model, using Seven Eleven and other minimarts to sell recharge cards for GrabTaxi. On GrabTaxi’s digital platform, this allows taxi drivers to buy points. In addition, awareness of regulations is also required, given the difficulties he encountered operating in Singapore. His recommendation: “Aim for localisation”.

    Another revenue channel discussed was in-app advertising and integration into mobile gaming, which generates high traffic volumes. Integration of this kind enables monetisation, alongside offline and online channels for distributing products and services.

    Best practices
    Going back to the question of how their companies have succeeded and what differentiates them from their competitors, and the future of their product, Tuan noted that adaptability to market conditions and customers is highly required. Citing GrabTaxi as an example of a functional business model, he said that it is as an innovative disruption to the standard model. He also emphasised on making the system user-centric and engaging the users.

    Donato spoke on the significance of mobile to companies and of maintaining visibility. He stressed on the rapid changes in mobile environments and of the need for companies to be responsive, lean, innovative and fast in adapting to the markets they operate in.

    Reflecting on Donato’s points about user behaviour earlier in the discussion, Lee noted that the Between app was successful because it made use of the existing behaviour among couples and their desire for privacy, rather than changing their behaviour.

    At this point, Bales noted that most successful apps exploit the existing behaviour patterns and desires by catering to them, rather than attempting to change consumers.

    Advice to traditional businesses
    The panel’s recommendation to traditional businesses was to expand into the mobile space as soon as possible. Donato supported this by claiming that half of all online traffic in Asia comes from mobile devices. Lee advised traditional businesses to focus on capturing user behaviour; he explained that its capture would facilitate business activity.

    Tan added that mobile is pervasive and highly disruptive, with the options being: “Disrupt or be disrupted”.

    Lee explained that VCNC was expanding the online relationship into the offline world. He shared how Between impacts their user community, with users crediting the app for saving their relationships. The users have even uploaded their babies’ photos and some have even invited VCNC representatives to their weddings.

    Donato shared eBay’s experience, with consumers emphasising immediacy and availability. He noted that eBay’s paradigm is that of a post-mobile age, with users desiring access to services anytime, anywhere, from any device, with eBay catering to that desire.

    The panel discussion concluded with the need for shopping, payment processing and social networking to be integrated seamlessly into a single product, and of how the future of mobile consumption would be platform-agnostic, as businesses would have to consider offerings across embedded devices, smartphones, tablets and other devices.

    In general, the conclusion to it was that traditional business leaders must explore opportunities presented by the mobile space now rather than later, and understand how to deploy mobile solutions. Given the entry of new players being able to adapt and innovate new solutions and extensive online information, traditional leaders must undertake due diligence on the market conditions, competitors and country conditions.

    Shiwen Yap

    Shiwen Yap

    Shiwen is passionate about exploring science, technology and entrepreneurship ideas and is an avid advocate of open source technologies and methodologies.

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