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US lags in mobile commerce despite strong consumer demand: Sybase

June 25, 2010

Consumers report a healthy interest in mobile coupons

Consumers report a healthy interest in mobile coupons

The United States is lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to mobile usage, including mobile commerce, according to a study by mobile messaging and mobile commerce services provider Sybase 365.

Looking at modern mobile services, the U.S. finished near the bottom of the pack for ability to access information, use of mobile commerce, and use of mobile communications, with an average of 12.9 percent of U.S. respondents making use of today’s services, just edging out Canada (11.9 percent of users) and Australia (12.1 percent of users). By contrast, mobile users in China are almost four times as likely to make use of the same services (49.2 percent), pointing to a highly mobilized culture.

In some cases, these results can be attributed to a lack of next-generation mobile services available for users in the U.S., and few mobile commerce deployments, despite a growing demand for them.

Mobile Marketer’s Dan Butcher interviewed Diarmuid Mallon, London-based senior product marketing manager of mcommerce at Sybase 365.

What is the key finding of the study?
Firstly we see from our survey that mobile data services reaching maturity—the phone is used for more than just voice.

Almost half—48 percent—of those surveyed access the Internet via their mobile device, a slightly greater number—49 percent—store music on their mobile and 43 percent email weekly or more often.

We are also getting huge amounts of information via our mobile.

A third of us—33 percent—get social networking updates, 19 percent are getting info about stocks and shares and 18 percent are getting information from political parties.

What is the most surprising finding, and why?
In this context, you might think that people could be overloaded with mobile services, but this was not the case.

A majority of those surveyed—78 percent—are interested in at least one extra/new service from current mobile use.

The most popular additional services include 46 percent who would like emergency alerts for things like bad weather and travel problems, and 31 percent who would like local government information.

Better still, there is a willingness to pay for new services—about 65 percent of all of those surveyed are interested in purchasing at least one service.

What advice can you give to marketers based on your findings?
What became clear in the survey is that interest in a service and willingness to pay do not always coincide.

For example, the most popular additional services include 46 percent who would like emergency alerts for bad weather and travel problems, and 31 percent who would like local government information.

But Emergency Information is perceived low-value, that is, a only a small percentage would pay.

So in markets where consumers pay when receiving messages, even “free” services will find consumer resistance if they feel they are paying for the messages.

This means for some services, you may need to consider using FTEU [free-to-end-user] messaging.

We also saw a great deal of interest in mobile coupons.

The study found that 34 percent of those surveyed from Asian countries are using their mobile handsets for banking purposes, compared to 21 percent in EMEA and 13 percent in the U.S. Why do you think it is lower in the U.S.?
The answer is two-fold. Firstly, these services have been available, in some form or another, for many years in Asia, and so they are further along the adoption curve.

Secondly, they focused on inclusiveness—making sure the services were accessible by as many people as possible—and that means SMS.

In the U.S., and to a lesser extend in Europe, we saw banks start with a application-centric view, and in some cases carrier-centric too. This acted as a barrier to adoption.

Banks have learnt their lesson here, and in the last year or so we have seen more SMS and mobile browser-based solutions—and the banks have seen a corresponding uptake in the services.

Why do you think more consumers are using their phones for mobile payments and mobile banking?
The answer to the question varies by country.

For example, in Africa, mobile payments is enabling people to pay their utility bills, which means they do not need to spend a whole day once a month queuing to pay their utility bills. And the local government can send hardship payments directly to the people in need.

In Germany, mobile payments is being used to make Internet shopping safer—and with a lower-than-average adoption of credit cards in Germany, it enables online shopping using just your bank account—and your mobile phone.

In America, it is being used so people can keep on top of their finances and increasingly to enable bill pay via the phone.

In parts of Asia, it is enabling migrant workers to not only send money safely and securely home, but also to enable parents to remote top-up the airtime credit on the children’s phones, ensuring they can always phone home.

And the list goes on. As you can see there is no single reason for mobile payments—it will fulfill different needs in different parts of the world.

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Dan Butcher is associate editor on Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach him at

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