After last night’s informative Heavy Chef Session with the inimitable Tim Bishop, the founder of Prezence Digital, we asked him a few pointed questions on his thoughts and observations about building mobile sites in South Africa.
Thanks for chatting to us here at Heavy Chef Project, Tim! You disagreed quite intensely with Jason’s sentiments on “Less Is More” in his post on mobisite design three weeks ago. Can you explain your view?
“Less is more” is very much a design phrase and in most cases is absolutely true, however, this phrase cannot be used for ‘functionality’. Less functionality is definitely not more in your car, on your PC or on your website and is certainly not true on mobile websites. There is a huge misunderstanding in the fact that mobile sites have to be the poor cousins of their ‘web’ counterparts, but this misnomer is spawned by ignorance in the market place (including poor info being disseminated by trusted and so-called industry experts who claim to be mobile specialists) and the inability of ‘mobile’ agencies to deliver a well balanced technical experience on smaller devices.
Mobi is massively powerful. In some cases, more powerful that its web counterpart. Users should have the choice to use as much functionality as they like. It is our job to give them that choice in an user-friendly way which is accessible for any kind of device.
Tim, you speak a lot about the lack of progression in South African mobile development. What do you think SA brands need to do to catch up to their cousins abroad?
I am not worried about the lack of progression of SA mobile development as I believe that some of us are on the forefront of technology and amongst the leaders in the world. These advancements, however, sit with a handful of companies in SA with limited direct brand exposure. The rest of the agencies who have the working relationships with the brands have simply added ‘Mobile’ to their list of services thinking that it is just a matter of scaling down the client’s web and campaign components. This process is called miniaturizing as opposed to properly ‘mobilizing’. It undermines the true value and ROI of mobile deployments.
Brand owners, of course, trust everything their agencies are telling them which immediately limits that brand to the mobile capabilities of their agency which at best is usually basic and naive. If brands want be at the forefront of mobile and enable extended reach to their customers (or potential new customers) it’s simply a matter of talking to the right people, researching and using the great examples out there as well as attending conferences or making sure that their agency does!
Mobile in SA is pretty much where we were in web when Prezence started in 2002, very few are good at it, very few understand it, but many are charging a fortune for it.
Transactional functionality is not something you see often in South African – or African – mobisites. Why do you think this is?
Mainly due to the points I raise above. It is not just internal technical limitation or lack of knowledge of those companies advising the brands. User experience design is infinitely more important on small devices and this has to be tightly woven into strong technical function. This combination is rare in SA right now.
Transactional sites on smaller devices need a slightly different approach in user flow. Creating easy to use, secure transactional sites is somewhat of a craft that involves many aspects including technical ability, usability and a solid understanding of how all 6000+ possible devices will handle things.
Remember that mobilizing is not just about enabling the people who use your website to gain access to you when on the move, it is also about reaching a further 10m+ audience who do not have that privilege of desktop internet access. On a transactional front for accessing those people comes with its own set of problems. Alternative payment methods are very close to being realized, so start the work now and the customers will come.
The Kulula example is a good one, it really offers no useful functionality whatsoever from a brand that is purely a transactional one (Very similar to SAA). At the moment on this site I can see how much I am going to miss my flight by, I can check the weather in where I should have been flying to if I had made my flight, and I can read all about how I could book a flight, a car, and change my booking if I wasn’t on my mobile! The simplest things are not even taken care of…. for example on their contact page. In mobile we have the oldest technology called ‘Click to call’ which acts like a hyperlink. This enables a phone number to simply be clicked and your phone will call it. On the Kulula site they don’t even do this, so you will need fetch a pen and paper (as you won’t be able to type it into your phone because you are browsing on it), squint to read the number, write it down, and then close down the mobi site and dial in the number and phone them! I don’t know who did this site and don’t particularly care, but no doubt good money was paid for it and it can only have been implemented by a company who does not even understand these basics of mobile access which is not really going to get us as mobile champions, Kulula or the Kulula user anywhere.
Apologies, if this very poor user experience was Kulula saying to the agency.. “No guys, we want it to be impossible for the user to hassle us on the phone so make this basic thing as difficult as possible for them”… but I somewhat doubt it, but even if that was the case, there are times where us as agencies have to forget about the paycheck and do the right thing regardless!
There may also be a strategy that surrounds the broader non-functionality and they’re intentionally limiting it for some other reason unbeknown to us, but there is no ‘user’ or ‘technical’ reason why this mobile site could not be a fully e-commerce enabled mobi site which not only offers flight booking/changes but also other transactional functions such as online check-in, car hire and hotel bookings. It is especially easy on a site such as this (airline) due to no requirements for 3D secure type payments (although those are in the offing). It would still have a ‘less is more’ design approach but instead of its current limited offering it could offer much more use and relevance to those wanting to access via their mobile phone. Transactional functionality is not restricted to smartphones, even the most basic of web enabled phones (available for R300 on pay as you go) have this ability.
For me, this site demonstrates everything that is bad about the way SA brands and their agencies approach digital technology and it is clearly wrong and more valuable money goes down the drain. They are surely not doing it on purpose, but these guys just need to change who they get advice from when making decisions in the digital space.
You’re behind some progressive mobisites like Ster Kinekor and Computicket. Can you give us a glimpse of how these sites are evolving?
Prezence built SterKinekor.mobi over 4 years ago now and is starting to show its age but all those years ago gave SA a glimpse (and a very big hint) as to what was coming in the mobile space and the importance of mobile commerce. Much has progressed in usability and handset detection and adaptation since then and we are very much looking forward to the release of SK2 ‘The sequel’ in a month or so. The new SK mobile site will recognize and adapt to the newer phones a lot better to give an enjoyable experience including geolocation, better quality trailers and a much slicker search and book process, but also offer everything the most basic user needs for mass penetration. More importantly it will be available to all mobile web users and will be bolting in all new methods of payments, wallets and tools to aid the unbanked and the ‘un-credit-carded’ along a constantly evolving roadmap as the technology involves.
Computicket themselves have recently become a lot more than just an event ticket company with the addition of a very strong flights, hotel and car hire offerings. Needless to say, this will of course be mobilized to take advantage of the benefits that brings to the user. When mobilizing anything in Africa we look at deploying lowest common denominator technologies and a design approach to enable access for all, but have the ability to upwards enhance for the smarter phones. This essentially means that even through mobi technology we are able to detect the advanced features of some phones and automatically and subsequently enhance the mobi site’s features to take advantage of these. Examples of this include: GPS and mapping/directions capability, HD video and streaming audio as well as more user- functional enhancements such as Ajax, HTML5 and dynamic CSS.
We’re seeing a significant growth in mobile browsing – how would a retailer like, say Pick n Pay, can take advantage of mobile?
Well, in theory there is very little PnP could not do on their mobile site that they do on their web site and enable all their current commerce activities, but obviously for major ‘basket size’ sites (size meaning the number of items rather than their value) involving users purchasing large varieties of products in a single transaction on a small device comes with more challenges than using a large screen, keyboard and mouse.
Whilst mobilizing a retailer with millions of products is not a problem (as great usability allows the user to drill down and find them), it is purely the amount and variety of items that a user may require on a weekly or monthly shop that would make usability slightly more of a challenge on a smaller device. That said, there is no reason why the functionality should not be there if you really did want it, after all, the technical functionality to add one item to a basket is the same as adding 500 items, it just takes more effort on the user’s side to find and add the 500!
PnP of course also allows you to save your large weekly or monthly shops. This helps mobile quite significantly as additions and amends to this saved basket of 500 items is much less time consuming to order via mobile. In our view, there is no reason why you should exclude any possible digital functionality from mobile. If you made the effort to develop it for web or your other digital channels then there is twice as much reason (population usage) to make a little more of an effort and enable it for mobile.
Mobile brings all sorts of other advantages to a major retailer such as a Pick n Pay such as real-time vouchering for redemption at the POS, basket suggestions as you walk through the store and in-store price scanning and comparisons. Every one of the customers walking around the store have a mobile phone in their hand, and this furthers the opportunities for a bricks and mortar retailer to enhance consumer interaction. For the non bricks and mortar retailers or those with much smaller basket sizes such as wine clubs, electronics, books, music and clothing, there is every reason to go mobile, however some of the biggest brands in this regard have not even activated ordering over traditional web channels. In the UK you will struggle to find a high street retailer who has not enabled online ordering and is not in the process of mobilizing those services. the logistics of affordable and safe delivery in SA can no longer be an excuse.
Do you foresee people actually ordering and paying for groceries via their mobile phones?
In certain circumstances absolutely (see above)… but why would we stop even the few if they wanted to, although not ubiquitous, there are handsets that would make this as easy as the web, and whilst it would probably be very much a long winded process on lower end handsets – if you had to do your shop and you did not have the luxury of a PC you would be grateful for the ability to do it. At this stage for a large grocer I think the focus would be in managing and adjusting their preselected monthly shop and those more premium items and packaged offers such as a case of ‘Winter wine collection’, ‘Braai for 4 hamper’, etc. This is where context comes in where we properly analyze why a user might be using the mobile to access the brand and the circumstances surrounding that access. The retailer is actually best positioned to determine what those ‘just in time purchases’ might be as well as the ‘Oh damn I forgot’, or ‘I cant be bothered’ packaged type products.
The approach to getting all of these things right and providing a great mobile and product offering whilst taking the user, context, content and the technology into consideration is what Prezence call ‘mobilizing’. Just making it smaller is not enough.
Thanks Tim for sharing with us and coming to talk to our guests at Heavy Chef! Also, big thanks to our sponsors Deloitte for the incredible venue with a view; Corona and Backsberg for the tasty beer and lovely wine; and Channel Mobile for making our events so amazing!