Tag Archives: Transactions

Digital Upgrade At Your Own Risk – Brand Be Damned!

It seems that many apps and digital offerings have been updated since the beginning of the year – and an interesting trend has taken shape. What once was so wonderfully free – with few ad breaks and just slightly more privacy – has turned the corner and has become, well… less. Additionally, a huge sector of mobile users that excitedly upgraded to Android 4.3 before the end of the year have only further lamented the multitude of issues they’ve encountered since (with battery life reducing drastically being a consistent theme).  All of this leads to the question – To Upgrade or Not To Upgrade?  Unfortunately, in many instances, the consumer never gets the chance to question and the brand is damned to stumble.


The gray area is meant to have content served within.


In the case of ESPN, they chose to re-brand their scores and news app to be more aligned with their colossal SportsCenter brand – changing it from Scorecenter to SportsCenter. That change makes sense – as does the twitter feed from their on-air personalities.  What’s more challenging is that the app is much more volatile (see above) with nothing showing much of the time.  Even more annoying is the fact that users now have to log in or register in order to automatically keep track of their favorite teams. For most, this might not be an issue, but for those trying to hold on to the last piece of privacy, that component might be a deal breaker. The fact that there’s now far more advertising with page overlays and in-feed ads only adds salt to the wound.

Diminished revenue generation is definitely an issue for all content providers, but it will be interesting to see how conversion plays out as more and more previously free apps move into the paid model. Since the new year, at least 4 of my news apps have moved behind a paywall – with only headlines available for free – rendering it useless. Hopefully, we’ll soon see the ramifications – one way or the other – on this change soon. We’ll definitely see if people have an appetite for paying in multiple places for content.

Even in the free realm, questionable choices have been made:

  • ABC force upgraded the app leaving users with a lot less content choices and a lot more ill will. Checking the ratings on the App Store and Google Play shows a very large distaste for something that was the standard bearer for innovative video presentation. With the previous usage and inability to skip through commercials, it made sense.  Who knows what will happen now.
  • Yahoo! changed their mobile product to supposedly simplify their content delivery. The only problem is that the UI leads one to believe that if they click on search, they’ll be able to search within the category (i.e.,Entertainment, Sports, Life), only to find that it takes them out of the app environment and to their general search interface.
  • Sporting News is struggling to keep from crashing as they deal with issues stemming from iOS 7 in their newest update. The fix might come with the supposed release of iOS 7.1 in March, but that brings us to the next issue.

With all of the concerns users have with upgrading already – and the worries of what they will have to learn or not have access to – is the update to iOS 7.1 or Android’s 4.4 KitKat one that people will venture into widely or quickly?  Microsoft is having it’s own issues getting consumers to upgrade Windows OS – especially as people realized how much was still left to be done with each release. Is the same lack of concern for the user experience – and the interest of meeting ambiguous deadlines worthwhile for consumers who are quick to pull the trigger and move elsewhere? A concern is that, among developers, there is an excuse permeating that everyone expects issues. How sad is that?

The debate can continue as to whether it’s human nature to always want the new bright and shiny object. But, it is pretty clear cut that when forced to the new, something good should be delivered.  If companies/brands keep forcing the issue, they might be damned to losing the loyalty of those who just want to keep interacting the way they always have.


Mobile Retail Opportunities Missing Until Future Developments

From all accounts during the weekend, Black Friday and the weekend sales did pretty well – even with the pepper spray.  One report stated a 24% uptick on Black Friday compared to 2010. Where there are still opportunities for growth and development are in mobile.  It was a bit frustrating to see that a number of retailers I checked Friday through Sunday were not optimized for viewing over mobile phones.  In the case of Office Depot, it was even more confounding that they would force users to a mobi site that only said they could not shop from mobile, only desktops.  It was bizarre and an opportunity lost that they didn’t provide a click to the web version for people with smartphones.  It makes you wonder how many other mobile transaction opportunities were lost.

Numbers of smartphone browsing and purchases were most-certainly higher than they were last year and will continue to grow. With that huge potential, retailers have some time to build and refine their mobile offering, but they can’t be too slow.  Steve Smith reported in an Online Media Daily post that mobile was responsible for 14.3% of all online shopping traffic on Black Friday and 9.8% of all retail transactions based on a report from IBM Smarter Commerce.  Perhaps the 41% bounce rate they reported was due to a larger number of retailers not allowing for a full shopping experience via mobile.

IBM pointed to eBay’s products (the actual eBay App and RedLaser, their owned price comparison app) as examples of the overall success.  I think using eBay’s properties might be too narrow a spectrum to claim mobile shopping was a success for the Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend.  Yes, it was better than the year before, but could it have been bigger?  Must users already have apps installed to be able to really take advantage of the retail experience?  Probably not.

The simple step would be to ensure that available technologies are sniffed prior to loading a mobi or WAP page, so that those who can handle the full site don’t have to be downgraded – and potentially lost.  For those retailers that are reliant on Flash, change quickly.  There’s no reason why HTML5 versions cannot be instituted.  Some would say that HTML5 is not used due to browser and platform compatibility, but that doesn’t ring true anymore as vendors are already proving that myth wrong – at least back to IE6 (which is questionable whether you want those consumers anyway.)

There are some good mobile retail sites – most notably, the Gap who was the only retailer to earn a nomination for Best Mobile Website at the 2011 Meffy Awards – but there are still a lot left to be desired.  With the migration of consumers from desktop to mobile platforms, sales numbers will start to be affected if more retailers don’t step up to make the shopping experience simple on mobile.

Image Courtesy of Mangatelier

When Should Competitors Play Together? When it Affects Your Wallet.

With innovation and the introduction of new technology, sometimes it does make sense for competitors to work together in order to clearly convey what changes are afoot.  We would have thought that the major studios would have understood that (based on previous learnings from the HD-DVD/Blu-ray debacle) as they are set to launch titles equipped with UltraViolet (digital content cloud storage) – beginning this week with Warner Brothers’ release of HORRIBLE BOSSES and GREEN LANTERN. Yet, the industry has already splintered before its begun with Disney launching their own cloud storage system outside of UltraViolet, Apple deciding they’re not going to participate and all of the studios setting up disparate locations and access gateways/experiences for accessing their UltraViolet content. So, when these huge competitors really need to pull together to introduce a consistent product in the attempt to generate adoption, they are putting themselves further behind the 8-ball by not working more closely together to create a unified or uniform experience. While the studios may have shot themselves in the foot – we’ll have to see if time proves that in the end – it is certainly an educational opportunity when it comes to the forthcoming ramp-up of Digital Wallets. Industries really need to make sure that consumers – and even each other – are given a consistent bill of goods in order to optimize adoption.

Digital Wallets are, in some form or another, being developed by banks, credit card companies and others to enable users to keep credit cards and coupons stored digitally in their mobile phones for simple POS transactions using Near Field Communications (NFC), RFID or other. But, it seems we already have a problem with this description as a digital wallet’s functionality is not clear amongst all of the players.  As seen in a recent Survey by the company, Compete, there is confusion about what the Digital Wallet really means and therefore skews responses on intent-to-use questions.  It also illustrates how much education is still needed for consumers and businesses alike.

In the survey, users were asked about their feelings on managing bank accounts, bill-pay, transactions, deposits and more on their mobile phones – a lot of which are mobile extensions of what can be done online – as a product of Digital Wallets.  Many banks already offer this and do not consider them to be part of a Digital Wallet, rather mobile apps that grant secure access to their bank account.  As such, a lot of the survey was misguided because it focused on these components more than the storage of cards and coupons and the simplified transactions that will be possible with Digital Wallets.

Image Sourced from theberryfix.com

The heading of their blog recapping the survey intoned that “Consumers are hesitant”, when it could be figured that they are just unclear about what is a Digital Wallet and what is Mobile Banking. While Compete referred to Google’s Wallet product, they muddied up the research that was outside of its parameters and tried to assign usage intent to the product.  The main information they showed was intent to use or adopt based on incorrect parameters so they are somewhat irrelevant.  With that being said, it is interesting to see that the connectivity or speed issue is the largest concern.

When they do get into some of the exact features, there are promising responses.  But again, they are muddied by what else is presented as wallet features:

Tap and Pay and Couponing are the two of the strongest of all the features.  The biggest challenge is getting users to adopt the technologies in the first place. Once they start using their phone as a mobile wallet, they do so often, according to Compete. Some 6% of consumers using mobile “tap and pay” services do so each day, and another 36%, weekly. And nearly nine out of 10 (87%) people who use mobile coupons do so at least once a month.

For as much as Compete was looking to shed light on something important, they might have made a hurdle even more challenging by posting a headline that puts doubt on a product unfairly.

Just as any individual company must work to maintain and communicate the message, sectors should be just as steadfast about communicating and clarifying the message.  Just as news cycles bring ideas to the forefront – whether correct or not – and then present follow-up on the proverbial “page four,” the same effect could be had as new products are introduced and people start making decisions on what they intend to do without all the information (just check all the iPhone 5 buzz before the 4S was announced.)  In this day an age, industry cannot allow the proliferation of mis-information – even if they are not yet absolutely clear on what their product is.  It is certainly harder to clean up mis-information, but it is even harder to do so when many different companies are after the same goal yet communicating with less than a clear voice.  A time like this is certainly one where the competitors should be looking to play together as much as they can to optimize their investments and future.

Has the Migration From Apple Started?

Following up on the post from July 26th, there are a number of site launches and legal challenges to Apple that are bringing their pricing practices into question.  We focused on the standard 30% take of anything sold through Apps and questioned what it would take to change that – including HTML5 web versions to curtail that charge. The issue was also the seemingly arbitrary figure of 30% – or any particular pricing that does not take any market considerations like demand, product or competition in mind. Just one look at this morning’s Cynopsis Digital presents these three bits of news related to those charges and pricing issues:

  • Digital movie service Vudu, purchased by Wal-Mart last year, is bringing its service to the iPad using a mobile-optimized website instead of a dedicated app. The move will enable Vudu to avoid paying Apple its 30% cut – becoming the first provider to directly compete with Apple’s iTunes store – but there are some sacrifices that had to be made. Movies from Disney, whose largest individual shareholder is Steve Jobs, will not be available for rental or download-to-own. Also, video delivery will be limited to standard definition.
  • The computer/gadget giant finds itself as a defendant in a new lawsuit brought by 5 of the 6 largest U.S. publishers, claiming that Apple is using its clout to illegally fix eBook prices. Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, HarperCollins and Penguin allege that Apple has used its market power to raise prices by 30-50% above similar books published under the wholesale model.
  • Amazon has also come up with a workaround to give iPad users access to Kindle books without having to give Apple its 30% cut. The company unveiled a new HTML5 Kindle mobile app for the iPad, the free Kindle Cloud Reader, providing access to Kindle books via a web browser that works on Google’s Chrome or Macs Safari browser for the Mac, PC or iPad. It pretty much mirror’s the native Kindle app for the iPad, with a few features such as passage highlighting missing. No download or additional installation is needed. This could be the beginning of a new renaissance in browser-based apps, as in addition to doing end-around Apple’s restrictive policies, they provide media companies with quick reach to multiple devices at once without having to launch a half-a-dozen separate apps.

Certainly, there are trade-offs when you are not providing a native app.  Those include simplicity (both in interaction and payment) and the loss of some features – like HD video for Vudu and the loss of passage highlighting for Kindle.  But time will tell if that makes any difference.

What remains to be seen is if these companies make their prices lower on those non-apple outlets.  If the only beneficiary of the removal of the 30% charge is the publisher, I question whether users will make the change to an experience that will not be as full (or fulfilling) as the native version.  It is interesting to see major players leading the scuffle and we can only hope they do it smartly and effectively.

As I really do like Apple and feel they are really the ones who blazed and legitimately built a new revenue stream for many companies, I feel there needs to be a happy medium here.  My hope is that they will make their pricing structure more fluid and less seemingly arbitrary.  Google will have to follow suit as Apple is clearly in the driver’s seat.  I really don’t know how Apple would be able to continue with the practice if they hold their policy and more publishers “jump ship” to HTML5.  It’s not like Steve Jobs can later decide he’s banning HTML5 to stem the flow when he drew the line in the sand a couple of years ago by pushing for HTML5 development to strike down Flash.

I also don’t want Apple to stop being the leaders in development and innovation because they are so bogged down in litigation or just trying to defend their turf.  We certainly don’t want to run into the mess we saw when the government went after Microsoft years ago. My simplified view of that episode is that it stunted Microsoft’s business, its innovation and it cost a lot of tax payers’ money for what ultimately became a non-issue.

When all is said and done, nobody can afford draconian or absolute measures at this point, in this economy. Something’s gotta give…And hopefully not at the consumers’ detriment.


And The Challenges to Apple’s App Practices Have Begun…

In what has been an issue-in-the-making since Apple first took 30% of every transaction within the App – and perhaps since they simply took 30% of every app purchase – there is now movement that could force a true stand-off between Apple and App Publishers.

Beginning in February of this year, Apple started taking a 30% slice of in-app purchases.  A solution that some publishers resorted to was the inclusion of a link that spawned a Safari browser to send people to complete transactions on their sites – which Apple felt they should still get a piece of.  As a result, some major players have caved to Apple’s heightened pressures last week by removing that link entirely.  You can read more about it at MediaWeek

What’s interesting to me is what that next step is.  I don’t believe that the move that Amazon, Google and others made is the way to go in the long run.  I also question the HTML5 route as a long-term solution due to the trade-offs on the UX side. But, something will have to give.

I can see this causing a more official questioning of the flat commission policies by organizations and governments.  The commission on a “distribution” fee of 30% may make sense upon initial download.  Receiving that on all transactions seems to be excessive.  If most people make in-app purchases or purchase subscriptions based on the work and quality of the app publisher, does it make sense for the original distributor to take a percentage at the same rate as the initial download?  I do feel that there is a need for some type of charge – just like credit cards charge on every transaction, but they charge considerably less – at a lower rate or perhaps even a volume-adjusted rate.  Android apps allow transactions to be completed by other means such as PayPal, but there is also an option to go through the Google In-App purchasing mechanism for that same 30% fee.  The Google payment is not as ubiquitous as Apple’s, but is slowly making inroads due to its ease of use with credit cards.

My hopes are that this forces a change from Apple – its better to get something than nothing – and they reduce the 30% on in-app purchases.  I can see Apple getting 30 on initial purchase, but the assumption is that people will complete in-app purchases based on the work of the app developer means that Apple should not get the full 30 once people are inside.  Granted, a change like that could force Apple to charge on every download of an app that includes in-app transactions– which could be a better return for them when you look at how many downloads of “lite” or basic free apps there are.  If publishers are looking to use Apple’s distribution to essentially get a free marketing tool for further purchases later, it only makes sense that Apple should get a nice piece of that return.  But if those are all charged up-front – even with a nominal fee – the volume should create a win-win for both sides.

As with all markets, these questions and challenges arise.  For the continued growth of the industry, and the hopes that politics do not come into play on this, something’s got to give.  Hopefully, a solution that benefits all those involved will be found in the end.  We all just have to wait and see…