4 Ways you Can Engage Customers with Mobile … Other than Sales

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 5 years you’ve probably heard about these two buzz-words – “mobile” and “mcommerce” (or mobile commerce). Usually retailers use them together because hey – that’s what retailers do – sell stuff to people. Now that a new channel is here let’s just go ahead and grab it. Well – maybe that’s not the best way to go.

You see – people tend to think of their mobile phone as something quite personal. It’s always there in their hands or pockets, it holds their most private conversations and information, it’s there when they go to sleep, it’s there when they go to bed.

Not many think in the same terms about retailers or shopping. Shopping is less of an addiction (except for those shoes, ladies) and more of a mix between (1) necessity, (2) convenience and (3) marketing induced propensity to buy. Nothing really personal there so don’t expect your customers to download your app, browse the products and buy after. Oh, and mean while, if you do expect that – don’t push notifications unless they actually ask for it.

When building a mobile app – do more than replicate your online store

Mobile sales

Mobile sales

Say you’ve built an online store for your brick-and-mortar operations a couple of years ago. By now you’ve probably seen a healthy increase in sales and you’re quite confident in online retailing overall so you decide to invest in a mobile application to handle mobile users’ needs. You decide that the logical thing to do is build an mobile app to showcase your products and let your users buy from that app.

That’s what usually retailers do but not what users want – remember the personal attachment people have to their phones?

Here’s a couple of things you can do right on your online store to serve mobile shoppers (which, by the way – are on the rise as you can see here):

  • build a responsive design to handle desktop users, mobile users, tablet users
  • adapt that design to fit each type of device
  • make payments as easy as possible and as secure as you can for mobile users

Now that you’ve covered the basics, while not boring or forcing your users to adapt to your store packed a native application, let’s make your mobile experience personal:

1. Make it useful

The smartphone is nothing if not useful. You can use it as a music player, email reader, browser, game console and dozens of other things. Your app should be useful. Here are a couple of examples as how companies made their apps useful to the targeted audience and changed the way customers thought of them:

Uber connects passengers and drivers. Changes the way they connect.

uber

Alright – Uber is not actually a retailer but we need not think in terms of black and white. What Uber handles extremely well is a customer need and delivers to that need as well as it’s expected. Note that its mobile approach is just a means to an end: customer satisfaction.

Amazon is sure it can outmatch brick and mortar competitors’ price. Launches barcode scanner app to prove it.

Amazon Barcode Scanning app

Amazon Barcode Scanning app

Amazon handles a huge inventory. If there’s any product out there that has a barcode attached to it, chances are you can buy it on Amazon with one click. The company makes that easy with its barcode scanning app – find a product, check the barcode and find it on Amazon. Easy and useful.

2. Make it fun

The Amazon Kindle is a disruptive mobile strategy that changes the way we read (and buy) books.

The Kindle iOS App

The Kindle iOS App

Back to Amazon – ever thought about the Kindle as a store? No? Because it’s one of the best stores out there. You can’t see the cash register but it is there. It is hidden behind that great mobile device / mobile app that allows you to read your favorite books (and purchase more of them), but it is there. It’s so good that it helped Amazon reach a point where, in some markets, it already sells more eBooks than paperback.

Talk about fun…

3. Make it local

Shop Nearby, by The Find

Shop Nearby, by The Find

Let’s just assume that not all shoppers are inclined to buy online or rather more – some of them need to find a product quickly, in their nearby area. The want the product now and are willing to drive to the local store to buy it. Here comes Shop Nearby, by The Find.

The application makes it easy for you to find a certain product in your close area or browse through all shops nearby.

4. Make it Personal

Last but not least. Make it personal. It has to be personal because mobile devices are personal items and apps should be personal also.

Gilt understood this when they launched …

Gilt personalized shopping

“Our goal is to make it even easier for members to discover products they love while they are on the go” said Steve Jacobs, Chief Information Officer at Gilt.com

Personalized sales

Personalized sales

Gilt.com is, as you probably know, one of the largest fashion flash sales retailers online. With a huge database filled with customer information and purchase history they can make their approach to sales chic and personal again.

When Gilt.com was launched it served as a private venue for brands to unload their unsold inventory. It used to be private and quite a little secret for Gilt’s members. Once the store got bigger and bigger they found they were unable to cope with users need for short-stock brand clothing. Even more – they couldn’t handle selling premium brands discreetly, something their suppliers were not really happy with.

Now that the personalized shopping has been launched, users can get special (and by that I do mean special) deals, based on their purchase history.

What’s not to love about a store that handles a one-on-one relationship with millions of customers?

Predictive Analytics and Why Companies Are Stalking Their Customers

Tomorrow is all about Big Data and how best can you handle it. See, companies don’t need more data. Most medium to large companies either have the data or ways to get it easily available. The problem is – most of them don’t know how to handle it.

Here comes the boom: Predictive Analytics is *the thing* nowadays. Long gone are the days when merely registering data, processing it and acting upon the findings in the next fiscal year was enough. Right now the fastest growing companies register data, analyze it and respond to it in real time.

Predictive analytics and predictive personalization – how do they work?

Hunch Recommendation

Hunch, now part of ebay, offers personalized recommendations based on personal infromation

We all leave trails behind. Our shopping habits, our marital status, our social groups, the shows we watch and gadgets we buy – all these and much more are trails and they are in some database, somewhere. Using this data, or whatever is available at any given moment, predictive analytics software can determine our future actions through two types of programmed responses (it’s a little bit more complicated than that, but you’ll get the picture):

1. Rules Based Personalization – “If this than that”. Basic personalization. Ex.: Customers click on an ad, enter our website and we can determine they are from New York. Let’s show them our stores in New York first. They click on our product catalog, select the high-priced products. Bang! We now know they have a medium to high income. This kind of responsive personalization does not really make use of any kind of predictive analytics. It just reacts to actions. It does not try to predict them. This is a job for…

2. Predictive Personalization – this is something we, humans, can do easily. Machines, not so much. Let’s say our sports store has a sales person with a decent IQ who’s at least a little bit interested in the customers checking out the merchandise. He notices customer X has tried on at least a dozen of sports shoes in the last hour. He walks to the customer and asks him “Hey, can I interest you in this brand new snowmobile? It’s 10% off. Oh, wait that is stupid. That just what old-time ads would do. He would actually ask the customer if he can help him find some shoes that fit and look good. That’s basically what Predictive Personalization is all about: 1. Analyzing the data real time / 2. Using context to pinpoint the best potential recommendation and 3. Personalize the output.

In case you were wondering – yes, there’s a little bit more science to it but the previous example shows what the buzzword stands for. If you are interested in the subject or you’re a future Predictive Analytics Expert you can have a look at “Personalized Recommendation on Dynamic Content Using Predictive Bilinear Models”, on how Wei Chu and Seung-Taek Park of Yahoo Labs used Predictive analytics to recommend better content on Yahoo’s front page.

Why companies use Predictive Analytics to stalk their customers?

You know why Facebook stalking is so easy? Because people want other people to know about their interests. The Millennials, the digital natives, generation Y – they are today’s youth and they are born and living online. They offer their info, they share their interests, they make their photos public. No more mass message. Each and everyone expects to be treated as an individual.

Companies that do not “stalk” their customers are going to be left behind: Amazon is personal, Facebook is personal, Google is personal. Most of the top online retailers are personal and they make customers’ shopping experience unique.

How about offline? Yes, 5 years ago we couldn’t have had any kind of Predictive Analytics or Personalization offline but the iPhone changed that. Now smartphones fill the gap between the data stored online and offline activities. Companies are now tracking consumer behavior through mobile activity and make use of predictive analytics to address individuals needs and wants … well .. individually.

Acting on data is not enough anymore. It’s acting on data NOW that’s important.

Social gaming architecture

“Your friend sent you a request” says my Facebook notification. That must mean one of my Facebook friends is playing one of Zynga’s or Konami’s social games. You know the type – manage a farm, a city or something close to that. You’ve finished building a windmill – what an achievement –  share it with your friends. Need your crops faster – oh, no – share it with your friends.

Zynga’s top brand: Farmville

These type of games, however annoying are highly addictive (at least for a moderately short period of time), highly viral and for a while they seemed to be the grim future of the gaming industry. After a fast growth period Zynga reported a loss of $400 million dollars in 2011. Not because of how bad its games were doing (Zynga owns 2011 top 5 most played games on Facebook and its revenues were $1.14 billion dollars). No, they payed “stock-based compensation expense for restricted stock units issued to employees”.  $510 million dollars in stock-based compensation it did not had to pay until it went public.

However bleak Zynga’s future might look they still own some of the most popular social games and they started to adapt to the rising trend of mobile-based gaming (tablets and smartphones).

Its main competitor, Konami, is not doing too bad, either. Actually Konami’s social gaming division reported a 77% increase in revenue. Given the sharp rise in Zynga’s and Konami’s revenue we can see clearly that social gaming is a great investment . What makes it so?

Social gaming is highly addictive

Social gaming makes use of some incentive design based on social activity and achievements. Social gaming companies use human psychology to create levels of addiction close to gambling and these games usually have slow learning curve, use many motivators to commit users to revisit the game (plant a crop, come back after 10 hours to use it) and use instant gratification to convince users to purchase upgrades.

Behavior economics in social gaming

Interestingly, most of behavior economics principles can be found in these type of games: from peer pressure to “doing the right thing” (don’t let your crops die) and clearly seeing the outcome of one’s action – all add up to a picture where behavior economics seem to be the baseline for virtual economic architecture in games such as Farmville.

The virtual life in social games

Collectible real-life World of Warcraft coins

Reality perception is altered when such games are played and playing the game seems to be more of a daily task then entertainment. To understand the high interest users have in this type of gaming we must remember that in our day to day life few things seem to add up like the virtual life in social games does. Click a button – start building a farm. Click another – plant crops. Come back after a day and you can cash in your hard earned coins that you can reinvest. It is a little harder to do that in real life. Sometimes – no matter how hard we try achievements don’t seem to pup-up.

We expect an end to our actions. If possible a fortunate one. We have been planting crops and harvesting them for thousands of years. Our bed time stories always have an end. The movies we watch program us to expect an introduction, action and the grand finally. Our lives don’t usually have that and this is one of the causes of modern stress and depression. Having a secondary life where everything is simpler and more colorful is a reward in itself.

The architecture of social gaming

Most social games have a pretty simple story that gets you hooked. The first form of profitable social games were the MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) where you played a character and took possession of his actions. Other players would join in and you would search for coins, artifacts and battle different monsters or other players.

What are the lowest common denominators of most successful social games?

1. The story – as we are used to stories from infancy we best deal with adopting a new concept if we receive it in a story. Weather you are living in a future where aliens are threatening to take over the universe, a village where your survival depends on how well you manage your farm or a fantasy world where elves and trolls are trying to get you – you need a story. Without a story no game-addiction can develop, there is no understanding of one’s actions and the game flops.

2. The setting – the environment is really important as that is the context for the players actions. If you are in a farm you don’t usually battle star ships. There is no need for extra mana to cast a spell and there are, usually, no monsters you have to slay.

3. The character – people play games to foster their imagination and to escape the usual reality. That’s the same reason we watch movies – we need alternate realities where we can embody some other character.

4. The economy – whether players are searching for extra stamina bottles, artifacts, coins or other incentives they do that because they understand the need for an alternate economy. Economics are so well embedded in us that social games that have no economic notion can never become mainstream.

5. The limitations – social games have to have limitations. Without limitations there are no achievements. Without achievements there is no psychological  gratification. No limits – no endorphin.

6. The incentives – what makes users tick? Incentives. Search for an artifact and you can defend your castle. Develop more farms and you can buy more land. Upgrade your ship and you can win the battle you previously lost. Incentives makes people act. Just as the real world economics incentives are the carrot that works better than the stick.

7. The social features – imagine playing tag by yourself. It isn’t too fun, is it? We are deeply social animals and everything we do is based on how other people react to our actions. Social gaming evolved so fast that it makes it so easy for users to attract peers and develop common interests.

What social gaming lacks right now?

Most of what we now call social games have developed strong social ties, a great system of incentives, some kind of limitations, some kind of game economics but they lack the story and characters. It’s not all about the graphics. The user has to understand the back story and understand who is he in the game. Just like our real lives the most important things about how we relate to the world are the things that shaped us, who we are and who will we become.

Zynga’s social games lack the story and the characters which is not much of a problem right now but people will get bored with the shiny incentives and peer pressure. For a long term user retention social games need to develop personas and epic stories.

Thomas Metzinger, a German philosopher, stated in “The Ego Tunnel” that we understand reality through a scaled down replica of the reality surrounding us. He based his research on neurological research, human psychology studies and artificial intelligence tests. Why is that important for social gaming? If users are not fully immersed in the gaming reality – they can easily abandon games. The game world is not really a personal perception of reality. Social games are shifting the perception of what is real and what is not but only for a limited time.

In the future I expect social games to develop the social gaming worlds to an alternate reality and developing characters. It’s happening right now with World of Warcraft. There are 10.2 million paying subscribers, fully immersed in the story and characters Blizzard created.

Bonus takeaway

In 2010 we wrote a study on Facebook Gaming. Most of the assumptions and predictions turned out to be right. Here is Gaming on Facebook .

Part two of this article will come soon and will focus on the economics of social gaming.

 

Behavioral Economics and Social Media

Humans are not usually rational. The neoclassical economists were wrong. We don’t make the best economic choices given more information. We do not plan for the future. We care about what others think of us. We act on impulse. All these things are the basis for Behavioral Economics Theory.

This (rather) new economics theory has caught momentum and is now one of the hottest topics in theoretical economics. Well… as hot as an economics theory can be. It blends psychology and neoclassical economics (the thing we generally call economics) to help explain why we act the way we act and to help policy makers increase the likelihood of better economic decisions.

There are many variables and a lot of information on the subject but for a better understanding we can look at some principles outlined by The New Economics Foundation:

  1. Other people’s opinion matters: we take great interest in what others think or do. We don’t usually get informed on economic topics. We usually copy behavior and decisions. Why? First of all we are a social species. We want to be socially acceptable and we can do that easiest by mimicking. It’s also easier.
  2. We are creatures of habit: even if what we do is economically wrong we will continue doing it out of convenience or because we have a habit that forces us to do what we do.
  3. We want to do the right thing: we have an innate sense of justice that leads our behavior. Most of us pay our fines not because we might go to jail but because “it’s the right thing to do”. We help others because it makes us feel good, not because there is any financial incentive in it. Actually such incentives may actually be counter-productive as they take out the primarily motivation – doing the right thing.
  4. We act according to our self image: we care about our commitments and we like to stand up for what we believe in. We see ourselves in a certain way – that leads us to certain kind of behavior in order to avoid cognitive dissonance.
  5. We are more loss averse than gain interested: we hang on to what we believe is ours. We treasure our possessions more than we value what we could potentially gain.
  6. We are not very good with data: we don’t really understand numbers, we’re bad at calculating probabilities and we take decisions based on how information is presented to us.
  7. We need to feel empowered to take action: too much information can lead to the inability to act. Too many options make us feel helpless. People need to have a clear understanding on how their actions affect the world around them to fully commit to any activity.

Behavioral economics in social media

Feelings, sharing, likes, friends, fans are not words we usually hear in business economics. We do hear them pretty often these days in social media. Business are starting to understand the importance of customers behaving socially. Social behavior is what drives companies to success or into the ground. There are no formulas in financial economics that can describe the feelings people have toward one company or another.

Classic economic behavior can be described in numbers on a spreadsheet but is not the way real people act. It is a flawed economic model in an economy that results in debt and frustration. The first result can be seen in the financial models we’re currently looking at. The second one cannot.

There is a growing media that helps express and amplify the principles of behavioral economics. That is the Social Media. With the growth of such social networking companies such as Facebook or Twitter, people started acting more and more connected. We now have an way of observing behavior with the help of social media. As it turns out all the principles of behavioral economics can be seen in social media. Let’s have a look at them:

Behavioral economics principles at work in Social Media

  1. Other people’s opinion matters: we care what our (Facebook) friends think of us. That’s why we share interesting quotes, we “like” only certain brands and we are very careful before posting something online.
  2. We are creatures of habit: first of all have a look at your behavior today. You have probably checked your Facebook timeline or Twitter profile at least once today. Why? Because you are accustomed to Facebook. You can’t give up checking the news, the photos your friends posted or the new products your favorite brand advertised on Facebook. Increase in mobile internet popularity is only enhancing this behavior.
  3. We want to do the right thing: people are sharing more and more social causes through social media. With over almost 1 bn users, Facebook acts as a catalyst for social causes. Social causes spread fast and users are very likely to share social messages. But that’s not all. Individuals as well as organizations now know that anything wrong-doing can have a long term negative impact on their life. Here is a video of a police officer pepper spraying demonstrators that quickly lead to a large negative social media response. If you were to search Google for the phrase “Sgt. Pepper Spray” you will find no less than 213 000 pages that frown upon his behavior. Eventually his email address and home address leaked to the internet. You can imagine the outcome.
  4. We act according to our self image: People have a certain self image that translates into social media behavior. For example: Barack Obama’s “Hope” presidential campaign was not really about the soon to be president. It was about the people that he represented. People found in the campaign a positive message for change. They’ve seen that the presidential candidate expressed a need for better people to run the country. People such as themselves. A lot of Obama’s success story happened on the internet where people expressed their views on “Change”. The messages they’ve spread were positive expressions of self image. People were not “like”-ing Barack Obama. They were “like”-ing themselves and the way they wanted their friends to see them.
  5. We are more loss averse than gain interested: Think about how often you see messages like “don’t lose the opportunity”. Why? Because they work. Groupon cashed in on the feeling people have regarding limited time discounts. So did Woot. Using loss-aversion works really well in online retail.
  6. We are not very good with data: If neoclassic economics theory would be true and if we really were rational beings, Groupon would never had caught on. Buying a discounted sky dive or a night lamp when we have ten already does not make sense economically. However, people did buy those things. Why? Because social media goes hand in hand with presentation bias. Suppose we see a 70% discounted offer on blue handkerchiefs that were already bought by 300 people. We think – “oh my, I must buy that handkerchief now or they will go out of stock. Look – 300 people already bought it”. The information has been framed (70%) and enhanced by other people’s behavior. We do not think whether we need the handkerchief or not, whether it is an economically safe behavior. We see the deep discounted price, we see that other have already bought this (see point number 1.) and we “need” to buy the handkerchief. Now.
  7. We need to feel empowered to take action: there are millions of products on Amazon. Billions of web pages indexed by Google. If we were to browse rather than search we would probably get frustrated and quit. However – we still use Amazon and we still use Google. Why? Because of targeting. Both companies dig through millions of terabytes regarding other people’s behavior to serve us the products and results we are most likely to buy or open. That makes our choices easier and we feel empowered to act.

I believe behavioral economics are here to stay. The kind of human behavior they explain has always been here. Social media is just acting as a catalyst to this kind of behavior. If we are to look deeper into behavior economics we need to use social media data to better understand the way we act and how can we get to economic results. The internet economy is growing at a faster rate than any other sector because successful online entrepreneurs already know the seven principles outlined here even if they’ve never heard of behavioral economics.