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Courting Consumers Who Use Mobile Devices

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Tom Clarkson runs Cumberland Systems Review Group and chairs the Book Industry Study Group’s Machine Readable Coding Committee, which created the modules that are posted at bisg.org and that served as the basis for this article. To reach him, email tclarkson@csrgrp.com.

With more and more people using smartphones and other mobile devices to obtain information and make purchases, the process—widely referred to as mobile commerce—seems to hold promise for book publishers.

The diagram below shows a popular approach to mobile commerce using two-dimensional (2-D) bar codes placed on posters, in print media, and on products as the starting point for communication with consumers. The term QR Code® is sometimes used to refer generically to these bar codes, but in fact it is only one of them, and QR Code® is a registered trademark of Denso Wave Incorporated.

When a consumer captures an image of a 2-D bar code with the camera of a mobile device, information stored in the bar code leads the consumer to a Web site that displays desired information and/or permits a variety of actions, including purchases.

Since mobile commerce is still very much in the try-and-see stage in North America, a number of approaches are being explored. This open environment is fertile for innovation, but widespread adoption has been somewhat constrained because both technical and procedural standards are still evolving.

Printed or displayed bar code symbols and direct communication are two of the mobile commerce techniques innovative organizations now frequently use.

Printed or Displayed Bar Code Symbol

What It Is
  • The symbol (bar code) is printed on, or otherwise applied to, a display object.
  • A URL encoded in the symbol directs the user to a Web site; QR Code® is a prominent example, although other symbologies are used.
  • Display objects are many and varied. They include newspaper and magazine pages and covers, in-store posters, transportation kiosks, bus and subway posters, retail shelves, cafe table miniposters, and mailing envelopes.
  • At the Web site to which the user is directed, information is displayed; and, in some cases, action may be taken.

How It’s Used

Information that may be displayed by accessing encoded Web sites can serve to:

  • advertise new products
  • promote forthcoming titles
  • present author biographies and/or link to authors’ sites
  • provide store locations or contact details
  • provide product data and information about product availability

Possible other actions include placement of orders or reservations for products or events.

Plus Points
  • Symbol masters are inexpensive and may be incorporated with other art in display object production.
  • The camera integral to most current mobile devices is adequate for this technique; no special equipment is required.
  • Mobile device applications that capture the symbol, retrieve the encoded URL, and access the related Web site are widely available and are preinstalled on many devices.

  • Poor original reproduction, weathering, and distance from the mobile device degrade symbol readability.
  • The lack of technical standards for applications can result in consumers experiencing erratic performance, depending on the mobile device in use.
  • Web pages not tailored for mobile device screens may result in a negative user experience.
  • In some instances, symbols are permanent (when printed in a book, for example), and continual updates on relevant Web sites may be necessary to ensure that consumers aren’t misinformed or frustrated by obsolete information.

Direct Communication

What It Is
  • Email and text messaging via short message service (SMS) are used for mobile commerce.
  • Hyperlinks in the body of the communication take customers to related Web sites in the same manner as other mobile commerce approaches.

How It’s Used

Communications are sent to people who have opted in to receive them. Information displayed directly in the text body or upon accessing hyperlinked Web sites can serve to:

  • advertise new products
  • promote forthcoming titles
  • present author biographies and/or link to authors’ sites
  • provide store locations or contact details
  • provide product data and information about product availability

Possible other actions include placement of orders or reservations for products or events.

Plus Points
  • Sending email or SMS text messages is inexpensive for organizations that already have facilities for broadcast messages of this sort.
  • This technique requires no special equipment on most mobile devices.
  • Direct communication of this kind is initiated by the business, and no action (other than a prior opt-in) is required from the consumer.

  • An opt-in feature for this approach to a mobile commerce campaign is a vital requirement to prevent customer annoyance with unwanted communications (spam).
  • Consideration should also be given to potential per-instance SMS message charges by wireless carriers to participating customers.

To Consider re Promotional Campaigns

Some general considerations have already proven to be important for mobile commerce. Broadly speaking, they pertain to six goals.

1. Positive user engagement. A good initial user experience is critical when any new technology is introduced to the public. The entire process the technology supports should be easy to use and reliable. Possibilities for confusion or erratic results must be minimized.

Applications and marketing campaigns need to be targeted to the demographic that would appreciate and make use of the new technology.

A consumer’s first experience capturing new symbols and launching new mobile device apps must be positive. If the experience is negative, the consumer may be discouraged from attempting to use the technology again, resulting in the loss of a potential customer.

2. Formatting for the small screen. Web pages display differently on the small screens of mobile devices than on computer monitors. All mobile commerce campaigns should utilize Web pages specifically formatted for viewing on smaller screens.

Consider carefully what the consumer will see, and bear in mind that simple screens and clear options that operate smoothly and quickly are preferable to more complex configurations.

Less is more; additional Web pages are preferable to overcrowded pages. Specifically, it is important to ensure that all table formatting has been removed, to make fonts clean and easily readable, to make images large, and to use only a few images on a single page.

3. Minimizing URL size. Size matters for a URL encoded in a 2-D bar code symbol.

The best practice is to encode as short a URL as possible in the symbol. Short URLs result in smaller symbols made up of fewer elements, and having fewer elements means that the symbol is less susceptible to reading errors.

4. Facilitating redirection. Redirection is the process in which an inquiry that reaches the Internet address encoded in the bar code symbol is immediately sent (redirected) to another address that provides current information, which is often geared to action such as purchasing.

This technique makes it relatively easy to modify a promotional campaign, since it entails changing only the redirection address rather than modifying symbols already in place in newspapers, magazines, posters, or other display objects.

5. Respecting privacy considerations. Mobile applications and campaigns that push information should utilize opt-in permission requests to consumers, asking permission for any future communication.

Note that 2-D bar code campaigns do not automatically collect personal contact information or other data from visitors, although email and SMS text campaigns do. As a result, 2-D bar code campaigns do not provide a direct means of building customer lists.

6. Mining data. Mobile commerce applications and campaigns involving Web pages do enable data collection for the analysis of consumer visits, using the same techniques as for any other Web-access data mining.

In addition, mobile devices enable geotagging information to be conveyed. Some aspects of analyzing this data raise privacy issues, and much of the current effort in this area is proprietary.

For Additional Information

Through its Mobile Commerce for the Book Industry project, the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) offers an array of modules about mobile commerce and updates them from time to time. Visit bisg.org and search “mobile commerce” for current versions.

Other organizations that offer relevant information include BookNet Canada (booknetcanada.ca) and GS1 US (via Al Garton, AGarton@gs1us.org).

Several companies that do bar code generation and reproduction are active in support of mobile commerce campaigns. Of course, they may or may not be qualified to provide the specific information you need, and they may or may not be suitable for a particular mobile commerce undertaking; as always, you should hire carefully.

These companies include:

  • Bar Code Graphics, Inc. (barcode-us.com); Andy Verb (Averb@barcode-us.com)
  • Film Masters, Inc. (filmmasters.com/home.htm); Kathy Paugh (barcodes@en.com)
  • Product Identification & Processing Systems, Inc. (PIPS) (pips.com); George Wright IV (gw4@pips.com)

More on Mobile Commerce

For lessons learned from experience, see “QR Codes: Reports from Early Adopters” (August 2011). For guidance on mobile-ready Web sites, see “Make the Mobile Web Work for You” (May 2012).

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