In just four years, one billion people will own smartphones, many of whom will be professionals taking these devices to work, says Forrester, a research company. And because of that, businesses need to think big about how to use mobile products to engage with customers, the company says.
Forrester on Monday published a 28-page report forecasting the growing impact of mobile in the world of business, based on its survey of 3,534 business decision-makers, like chief information officers or I.T. technicians, around the world, among other measures.
It estimated that by 2016, 350 million workers will use smartphones — 200 million of whom will take their own devices to the workplace. By that year, consumer spending in the mobile app market will amount to $56 billion, and business spending on mobile projects will have doubled, the study found.
With the explosive growth of mobile use among consumers, businesses need to think beyond making versions of their Web sites for small smartphone screens, said Ted Schadler, a principal analyst at Forrester and an author of the study. When making mobile products, businesses should strategize about how they can take advantage of the data they can gather from smartphones — like location information and spending habits — to create a richer experience, he said.
“Mobile is the new face of engagement,” Mr. Schadler said. “Businesses should stop thinking about it as a small Web site on a tiny computer, and start thinking about mobile as being deeply embedded systems of engagement. That turns out to have huge implications.”
Take, for example, Target, the retail store. If a customer walks into Target and has bought baseball gear in the past, the ideal Target mobile app will know when he is standing in the sporting goods section and will be able to tell him about a discount on a new baseball mitt, Mr. Schadler said. That’s more customized and engaging than a mobile version of the Target Web site.
Giving customers a good mobile experience requires a lot more than simply designing a cool-looking app with some nifty tricks. Businesses must strategize about how to invest properly in the back end, or the servers and employees necessary to maintain services so they run smoothly even when the number of customers using an app grows, the research report said.
Security will be tricky, too. I.T. departments will have to expand security measures to go beyond protecting the business itself and protect user data gathered from mobile apps. Then, of course, companies must evaluate how to respect user privacy, and take advantage only of the information that customers willfully share.
John McCarthy, an analyst at Forrester and another co-author of the study, said: “How do you interact with somebody in their moment of decision? How do you take advantage of their permission they’re giving you to be in their pocket, if you can be right there alongside somebody in their daily life and their daily work? It’s up to you to do this respectably, without invading privacy.”
Developing a strong mobile business strategy hardly sounds easy, but it could pay off big. The research study lists Walgreen as an example of a business that has greatly benefited from its app. The pharmacy company said that 25 percent of its transactions came from its one-year-old mobile app, where the most active customers are tapping through to shop, order prescription refills or find nearby stores to get flu shots.