Retailers call for end to consumer mobile barriers

Big-name retail players urged the mobile industry to abandon locked devices, confusing data plans and closed ecosystems if they want the era of the “connected consumer” to reach its full potential.
Brian Dunn, CEO of US-based retailer Best Buy, said mobile broadband, apps and connected devices (to include automobiles and appliances) are reshaping the retail game and changing the way consumers shop, but that limited access to smartphone/tablet level technology remains a barrier.
“The smartphone redrew the line in the digital divide, but comparatively few people are using these devices,” Dunn said during the morning keynotes of Day 1 of the Mobile World Congress Monday. “We call on the mobile industry to provide better access to these life-changing technologies.”
Dunn criticized the practice of locking devices to networks because it inhibits growth, drives up prices and makes it difficult to create customized plans to suit different customer needs.
“We need to drive out complexity and make devices more accessible with freedom of choice,” he said.
Dunn also called on operators to develop data plans that are more reasonably priced and less confusing. Dunn said that while he understood the rationale for dropping unlimited mobile data plans in favor of tiered plans, the mobile industry needed to do a better job of getting customers to understand the value of the new data plans.
“They don’t think in terms of megabytes,” he said.
Also during the morning keynotes, eBay president and CEO John Donahoe credited mobile with becoming the “central dashboard” in consumers’ lives and changing the way they consume products.
“Consumers today want what they want when they want it, and mobile is at the center of that,” he said.
He added that retailers are seeing more consumer behavior changes in the last three years than in the previous ten to 20 years, as consumers increasingly use mobile as part of the shopping experience, whether it’s to seek more product information, comparison shop for prices or close a deal.
“Half of all retail transactions in the US last year involved web access at some point in the transaction, to include researching the product on the web, whether you bought it online or off,” Donahoe said.
Donahoe said eBay wants retailers and merchants to win in this new environment as they provide a seamless multi-channel experience, but that it should never be forgotten that all these changes may be technology-enabled, but they’re also customer-led.
“That will have implications in the retail and payments sector. The big implication for us is to embrace openness, not closed systems,” he said. “Customers want choice, and if you don’t give it to them they’ll find a way around it.”
Approaching the same topic from the perspective of mobile advertising, Interpublic Group’s CEO and chairman Michael Roth warned delegates that they must think of consumers in terms of relationships, not eyeballs.
“It’s not about mobile marketing, its about mobile engagement,” he said.