Book Review: the Impulse Economy

Korean subway mixed reality

Nevermind the hype, the ongoing explosion of mobile could either be the best or worst thing to hit ordinary retail business since the internet.

Imagine you are in the business of selling things at retail. What does it mean when you see your customers predaciously roaming the aisles armed with smartphones and suddenly better informed about the competitive quality and pricing of your goods than even the store manager. What does it mean when you see a competitor like Tesco do away with goods altogether and light-up mixed-reality virtual aisles the length of a subway station? According to Paypal, this year’s black Friday saw a 516% jump in mobile commerce. Meanwhile, savvy ecommerce vendors are using mobile apps and offers to cherry pick customers out of busy store lines. Or how to respond when you hear that apple has a new almost-magic in-store mobile experience that does away with checkout queues entirely?

Ever since the first ecommerce boom more than a decade ago, many brands out there still wrestle with tensions between direct/online and retail channels. That’s going to get a lot more complicated.

With mobile there is no separation anymore. Mobile means you can’t keep the internets in the tube. With the separation of channels eroding, physical retails are at last feeling the full brunt of online competition. As they say, bestbuy is now Amazon’s showroom. Depending which side you want to be on, there’s enormous promise and disruptive risk from mobile and the convergence of commerce.

So it’s very timely that my friend Gary Schwartz is out with a new book on m-commerce: the Impulse Economy. This is the most useful and thorough book I’ve seen yet on the current state of the nation of m-commerce, how we got here and what may lie ahead.

If you are new at mobile commerce you’ll find a good overview of all the current technologies and players from tags and texting to mobile wallets and telcos. Most useful for me were Gary’s insights into the behavioral aspects of mobile. Done right, mobile isn’t just about imposing new payment interactions or hurling coupons at consumers for the same transactions they might have consummated anyway. Impulse Economy argues that mobile done right is about dropping consumer frictions and resistances to buying.

Another takeaway, targeting and relationship value. “The physical store is limited aisle, online is limitless aisle, mobile is targeted aisle”

For consumers, mobile promises not just more convenient checkouts but also the opportunity make better informed, more confident purchase decisions.

For merchants, mobile offers new ways to reach, increase engagement and deepen relationships with customers. Mobile is a chance to provide more information, more services attached to products or tell stories and deliver digital experience that enrich the value of a brand. All of which could drive consumers to pay a premium. Especially if the payment method is easy and impulsive. Rather than just being a vector for discounting, mobile could give merchants more power to grow ticket size or better price discriminate by tailoring pricing and product offers individually to customers.

Of course there’s more to mcommerce than physical retail. There’s commerce through content, there’s turning marketing channels into actionable sales channels, there’s tablet and couch-based commerce. But I won’t give away too many spoilers.

Now, there is some irony in packaging a very emergent field onto static sheets of flattened would pulp. You best pick it up now, as any book like this will only be up to date for so long. Although the book offers a good number of relevant examples, much of the promise of this future impulse economy is still yet to be invented. I guess to help with that, the book comes bristling with all manner clever tags linking you to an official blog, which I hope he’ll be keeping up to date.

But for now, anyone grappling with the potential disruption or opportunities of the new digital commerce, the Impulse Economy is a great place to start.

LINK: The Impulse Economy Blog

Impulse Economy on Amazon