By Timothy Loh
SINGAPORE - The mobile commerce (m-commerce) market is growing exponentially in Singapore, but merchants are not keeping pace with changing consumer preferences, says Rahul Shinghal, director of PayPal Mobile Asia Pacific.
The e-payments company, however, intends to change that, with two new m-commerce products launched this year.
A study by the Nielsen Company commissioned by PayPal last year revealed that total spending on mobile commerce in Singapore increased almost eight-fold in the last year, from $43 million to $328 million. The e-commerce company also anticipates that the local m-commerce market will reach $3.1 billion by 2015.
The growth of the m-commerce market is primarily consumer-driven, not merchant-driven, said Mr Shinghal.
More and more consumers are visiting e-commerce sites, with 20 per cent of traffic to these sites coming through smartphones and tablets, up from 5 per cent last year.
He attributed the surge in traffic to the proliferation of smartphones among Singaporeans, with up to 70 per cent of locals carrying an iPhone or Android handset, as well as the depth of 3G penetration here.
PayPal's research indicates that customers between the ages of 18 and 44 now use their mobile phones as their primary Internet-access device, and may choose to surf the Web and make purchases on their phones even if they're sitting in front of their personal computers (PCs).
Mr Shinghal explained: "You have a device in your pocket which you don't have to switch on or log in, that's always connected and easy to use."
He also cited the rise of daily deal sites, such as AllDealsAsia and Groupon, as a factor fuelling m-commerce growth.
Subscribers to mailing lists of these websites receive a daily email update on which deals the site is offering, read it on their phones and go on to access these deals directly on their mobile devices.
But only one in every four Singaporean businesses have a mobile-friendly website.
PayPal's survey showed that nearly two-thirds of mobile shoppers in Singapore had previously stopped a mobile transaction because of the hassle of entering their financial details, such as 16-digit credit card numbers, on a small screen.
"They don't realise how badly this is impacting their business," said Mr Shinghal. "The need to mobile-optimise their sites is so urgent, so real, and they have to do it now.
"None of the other payment providers are offering a mobile-optimised payment system," he said, adding: "They're just forcing a desktop experience on a mobile device."
PayPal, however, plans to forge the way forward with two m-commerce solutions unveiled last month that will enable businesses to take advantage of increasing demand among consumers for mobile- friendly interfaces when making online purchases.
With the first solution, the PayPal Mobile Payments Standard, customers who shop on a PayPal merchant's website on their handphones will be redirected automatically to a mobile-optimised payment page during checkout, even if the merchant's website is not mobile-optimised.
Mr Shinghal said: "Once you come into the PayPal world, we will offer a mobile-optimised experience, which is clean, nice and fits the screen, because we respect the (mobile) channel and user experience."
PayPal is also piloting its Mobile Commerce in a Box solution and expects a full launch by year-end.
The M-Commerce in a Box is a software that merchants plug into their e-commerce websites, which converts their site's desktop interface into a mobile-optimised one.
The conversion process takes less than an hour and is cost-free to merchants.
For merchants concerned about additional costs incurred in mobile optimisation, Mr Shinghal noted that "the cost of going mobile compared to the amount of consumers they are losing is marginal".
Anecdotal data has revealed a 15-day return on investment after going mobile, he said.
From the consumers' perspective, a major concern in making mobile purchases is security.
To this end, PayPal has taken measures to protect customers' financial information.
The data is never shared with merchants, but is securely processed on PayPal's servers.
It is also not stored on customers' handphones, so even if they lose their phones, their personal information remains secure.
"We have the lowest fraud rates in the world among e-payment companies, and that's testament to the fact that security is really part of our DNA," said Mr Shinghal.
He expects smartphone and tablet sales will far outstrip PC sales in the near future.
With demand for mobile-friendly platforms on the rise, he also sees that "mobile will keep driving the convergence and blurring the lines between online and offline", and businesses would do well to leverage this trend.
In fact, PayPal held a Quick Response (QR) code campaign with SMRT in February and April, where it placed live transactional advertisements at various MRT stations. Commuters could purchase items by snapping a shot of the item's QR code with their smartphone cameras.
Mr Shinghal said: "Any merchant who feels it's too early for mobile, I'd urge them to go and look at their back-end analytical data. They can see what kind of traffic is coming from where and what percentage is coming through mobile devices.
"When they fall off their chairs, ask them to call us," he quipped.
This article was first published in The Business Times.