Mobile Commerce and Convenience: This app needs a caffeine fix

A few weeks ago I wrote about consumers’ increasing use of smartphones and the massive opportunities awaiting companies that leverage mobile commerce.

I was beyond giddy when I heard that a particular “caffeine fix” company was going to let me try my hand at using my phone as a form of payment. After downloading the mobile app on my iPhone, I decided to try it out.

Trip #1: I reached the counter and held out my phone. “I’d like to use the mobile app to pay. How do I do that?” Blank stare (I felt a little guilty at this point, carrying out my own market research). After asking several other employees, he said I’d need to buy a gift card in order to use my phone to make the purchase. Hmmm … doesn’t that kind of defeat the convenience of using my phone to pay? The glares from the caffeine-less line behind me told me this was not the best time of day to be quizzing employees on new technology, so I loaded a gift card, along with my “caffeine fix,” figuring I’d try out the mobile app another day.

Trip #2: With registered, loaded gift card in hand and phone in the other, I was ready to go this time. An improved employee response, “Oh yeah, I heard about that.” But still, the employee didn’t know how to use it. A bit of fumbling with the register – no luck; the scanner didn’t like my phone very much. With no other workaround, both the employee and I grew impatient.  So … with my gift card in my left hand and my iPhone in my right, I finally decided to end the painful transaction and hand over the card.

These two transactions spoke volumes about what it takes to successfully introduce mobile apps in the marketplace:

Customer convenience: Mobile apps should be a more convenient means of payment for customers, but my experience showed that this isn’t always the case. Having to purchase a gift card (instead of automatically debit from a personal account) complicated the process. Who wants to add another “balance” to their life to keep track of? To top it off, if I’m looking ahead to the next month, my pragmatic self probably estimates one caffeine fix a week. If looking back on last month, I’ve probably indulged, more accurately, 2 times a week. Having my caffeine fix debit from an account versus a gift card balance is a much more convenient way for customers to pay through mobile – and would probably mean more business for the vendor.

Employee education and training: When introducing a new form of “convenient” technology, it is critical that employees know all about it. Leading the pack doesn’t mean just building the technology – it also means ensuring that your employees and customers know how to use it.

Often times, this starts with understanding your customers’ drives, desires and how they live their lives – and how your company can deliver in response to it all.

What about you? Have you used any mobile technologies recently that proved to be more complicated than convenient? If so, what would you tell the companies that made them?