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How smartphones have the potential to transform the business world
Posted by Matt Rawlings on 14 Aug 2014
Every few years, or even decades, a technological shift occurs that completely changes how we lead our lives, and has a dramatic – and lasting – effect on how businesses operate. Whether is was the printing presses and typesetters in the newspaper industry rendered obsolete by the shift to computerised desk-top-publishing, or the photographic film industry being left behind as consumers moved to digital, the consequences on those who failed to spot the shift and respond to it were catastrophic. Those companies that were quick to adapt however, benefited from new business models, new opportunities and, perhaps more importantly, new revenues.
Mobile, specifically the fast-paced adoption of smartphones, is a game changer. In an article in The Guardian, research from Kantar ComTech revealed about 71 per cent of UK phone users have a smartphone.
Consumers are now spending more time using the internet and apps on their phones than on a laptop or desktop computer. One startling perspective was provided by a simple mobile gaming app, Draw Something, which launched in 2013. While it took AOL nine years to hit one million users, and Facebook nine months, Draw Something hit the one million user mark in just nine days.
In its most recent financial report Facebook quoted that 62 per cent of its revenue is now generated from mobile. In an article on journalism.co.uk telecommunications regulator Ofcom revealed that from April 2013-2014, 14.5million unique users accessed the BBC website from a mobile or tablet vs 10.6million on a desktop or laptop.
However, like with many new technologies and/or shifts in consumer behaviour, the opportunities created for businesses are often unknown or lost in the techno-babble surrounding the changes. So, what can the adoption of smartphones, and the fact your customers are now ‘connected’ 24/7, actually do for you business? Can smartphone technology really help drive up revenues and attract new customers? In a word, yes, and it’s a lot easier than you might think.
There’s a broad range of smartphone enabled business opportunities that SMEs can tap into; from relatively simple SMS services to send out reminders, through to deals and loyalty schemes to entice customers, all the way through to building your own iPhone and Android app to promote your business and engage your customers. What can they do? How do they work? How do you get started? Let’s take a closer look at each.
Text messaging/SMS isn’t new. Nor is it reserved for just smartphone owners; any mobile - smart or otherwise - can send and receive them but, it’s still a great mobile service that can create real business benefit. You’ve probably experienced a text from your dentist reminding you of an appointment or check-up, or your car dealer suggesting it’s time for your car to be serviced or have its MOT. Have you thought how this could be applied to your business? Restaurants sending reservation reminders, accountants or financial advisors sending tax reminders, or window cleaners reminding their customers to leave a cheque. Platforms such as Global Messaging or Text Local take some of the manual burden out of sending the messages by automating the process and are straightforward to set up.
Another way forward is to place your special offers with a deals service, such as Groupon or Wowcher. Thousands of consumers have downloaded the mobile apps for these services and those who sign up are sent a regular selection of products and services tailored to their interests and location. It’s a symbiotic relationship that works well for both sides: the customer can sign up and choose the offers they wish to receive, and from a business point of view is great for brand awareness. Yes, you’ll have to give away free services or cut-price products, but you’ll be potentially grabbing a completely new audience.
Loyalty schemes are also benefiting from the enhancements of mobile technology; rather than a customer having to carry a set of easily lost cards, a smartphone can act as a container for them all. The newer trends are concentrating on digital loyalty schemes that are easy to see for the customer, and easy to manage for the business.
Simple examples of loyalty apps include Click! and Loyalzoo, and each works in a broadly similar way. For example, rather than carrying a dog-eared coffee-shop paper card which fills with ink stamps, a digital version on a smartphone can be updated by the vendor quickly and easily. There is no reason why most small companies cannot apply this to their own business structure in some way, and LoyalZoo states that raising customer retention by 5% can boost profits by up to 75% - so the appeal is obvious.
Perhaps an even more engaging approach of taking your business mobile is to build your own app. While it might sound stretching, building an app is now really simple – with services such as Appsme you don’t have to write a single line of code and it only takes 20 minutes. An app can include your deals and digital loyalty card, plus perhaps your price list or menu and a gallery of photos showing off your products or your most recent projects.
Perhaps of most value are the impressive messaging capabilities that having your own app can deliver. Push notifications and geo-messages – both enabled within an app - allow you to communicate with your customers in a new and compelling way.
Take push notifications: you’re a small restaurant and you have no bookings for a Tuesday night. It looks like the evening will be a disappointment. So, you act quickly and come up with a deal on-the-fly; free bottle of wine with a meal for two between 7.30pm and 9.30pm. Free starter. Free naan bread and rice with your curry. A 10% discount. The offer is up to you, but your timing is good as you create the deal and send it out between 6.30pm and 7pm via a push notification in your app, giving just enough time for plans to be formulated or changed by eager diners.
It might not work. You might pack the place out.
Geo-messages work in a similar way, but instead of you pushing out a message to all of your customers with your app, you can set up specific areas, or zones, where messages of your choice will automatically pop-up on your customers’ phones when that pass by. For example, a restaurant could send out a message aimed at commuters as they arrive home at the local station offering a special offer on early dining, or a message targeting a local theatre offing pre-or post-theatre dining deal. It may all sounds futuristic - but it is here now and easier to set up than one might believe.
Where smartphones will take the user next is difficult to predict. Things like iBeacons, that enable retailers to send different content to your phone as you browse around a store, are showing promise but it’s still early days. There’s also talk of drones potentially delivering goods directly to where you are based on the location of your phone, but again this is a while away in reality. What’s certain is that many businesses are already taking advantage of mobile services that are here today, building clever, interactive apps to boost customers and grow revenue – and if you are a small business, you should be joining them.