Net Prophet: the wireless commerce horror

The enthusiasm for wireless is rapidly gelling around the idea of commerce - mobile commerce ("m-commerce" . . . ugh). You'll be able to buy anywhere, any time! You're no longer tethered to your desktop! You can buy stuff at the bus stop! Viva la revolution!

Pardon me for being underwhelmed.

Stop and ask yourself: "Just because we're developing the capability of purchasing via mobile systems, does that really mean people are going to develop a sudden and inexplicable Pavlovian desire to buy all the time?" Do we really expect the world to be gripped by the same fever that drives the Home Shopping Network? My bank account just happens to be a few orders of magnitude smaller than Bill Gates', so actually I don't want to spend money all the time.

In fact, believe it or not, I don't want to spend my every waking moment buying things. Sure, there are lots of interesting tools for wireless - maps, for instance. But you don't make a big business out of selling downloadable maps. And there are some goods that people will buy via m-commerce - theatre tickets, for example - to avoid lines at the box office.

But I don't think the world is going to suddenly develop a compulsive need to purchase à la the Home Shopping Network.

In fact, some of the m-commerce ideas I'm hearing positively horrify me. One notion is that, as you stroll down the street, your handheld/Webphone/thingumabob knows exactly where you are and alerts you to the specials being offered by shopkeepers you pass by. This is an impressive integration of technologies. But can you imagine a world where a walk down the street is transformed into a commercial gauntlet you must brave, as the invisible hands of merchants all tap you on the shoulder? It turns my leisurely evening walks into a nightmarish assault on the senses. I pass by a bakery, a toy store, a dry cleaner, and a travel agency - to name one block. Trust me, I don't want to hear about all their offers. The very idea makes me want to track down the chap who thought of this and bounce my mobile phone off his skull. Most people hang up on telemarketers and dread dealing with sales people. Why on earth would I want to carry a miniature, digital version of such a spruiker in my pocket? Wireless opens up a whole new, quite unpleasant, world of spam.

M-commerce - no, make that successful m-commerce - will not be about purchases. M-commerce will be about providing information that facilitates a purchase. Don't think commerce, think communication. There's a massive gap between those two ideas. It's the difference between offering a gadget for sale via handheld and giving access to information about that gadget - the reviews, who's put it on their Christmas list, etc. - and the ability to make a note to one's self: "Check this out, I might want it."

Don't build a strategy around selling things via m-commerce; build a strategy around communication and information.

Make it simple for consumers to gather information by whatever channel is most appropriate, and eventually they'll buy.

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