M-Commerce Arrives (Finally): Amazon iPhone Mobile Client

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Finally, there is something really exciting to talk about in mobile. Well, not finally, as I have been talking about this since 2005, but M-Commerce has arrived in a really well integrated fashion on mobile, Amazon Mobile. Let’s run down the quick list of hits and misses in m-commerce, and then, let’s see where Amazon Mobile points us.

Hits (Let’s honest, none of these are really hits, your Mom has never heard of any of them…but I bet she’s heard of Amazon):
ScanBuy: The granddaddy of mobile commerce allows the user to take a photo of a barcode and get back some results. Used to be clunky, but now is pretty useful, and the ScanBuy technology is pretty promising on a lot of fronts. 2-D barcode reading as mobile marketing device has some interesting promise, but their ScanLife m-commerce (well, not really the commerce part) comparison shopping service has been available for a long time and set the standard.

S’Lifter: S’lifter took a novel approach to m-commerce. They aggregated local stock levels of real world retailers and returned comparison shopping results in a stock and location aware fashion. Nice approach. It has some good success, available via Sprint and Virgin Mobile (and maybe others). Big issues are friction around getting inventory levels from retailers and no way to close the loop on a purchase. (How does a retailer know that you found the product via S’Lifter?) Would be terrific if integrated with a buy online pick up in store idea. (Disclaimer, I used to work for S’Lifter…I think they are terrific people that work really hard and have a good vision.)

That is about it. There are thousands of misses. Obopay, MobileLime, the list goes on and on.

So why has m-commerce not become a significant channel? Well, there are two obvious reasons carriers and retail point of sale issues. So, whatever. Carriers got in the way. They are starting to get out of the way. Eventually they will. Retail point of sale is a bigger issue. Commerce via mobile (using the mobile device as a payment channel) is a nearly intractable problem because of the infrastructure needed to support it. (Imagine every 7-11 or Macy’s with an NFC terminal attached to their POS…impossible). 

But, there is this in-between world of delayed fulfilment via mobile that Amazon is hitting really well. It isn’t a new idea, because lots of retailers (including Amazon) have had WAP sites where you could buy goods via mobile devices for a long time. But Amazon takes things to a new level by leveraging the strengths of mobile. 

Amazon has created the “Remember” function which allows you to take a picture of an item with your iPhone camera. The image is sent to Amazon, crunched, munged and played with and in a few minutes you get an e-mail with a link for to your item in the iPhone app or the web. I did it with my Jawbone headset sitting on my desk. It analyzed the photo (not a good one, mind you) and found my headset in a different color. It took about 5 minutes. Perhaps longer than I want if I want to do some comparison shopping in a store, but perfect if you see something while you are out and want to check it out later. 

Perhaps, best of all, Amazon uses its One-Click checkout and automatically handles the payment and shipping. I suspect that later iterations will use your Amazon address book to let you send things to other people.

And, Amazon is now letting other merchants use their checkout…this is the start of something terrific. It has taken a few weeks, but I am jazzed about mobile again!

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