Friday, 24 May 2013

Playing the numbers game

Consumers are once again getting confused – this time with the burgeoning number of, well, numbers, with an Ofcom study showing that many people don’t understand the call rates associated with 03, 08 and 09 numbers and turning away from using them – often not making important calls – because they fear massive call charges.

This is all very reminiscent of 20 years ago when premium rate numbers ended up all over the papers because of massive bills ‘inadvertently’ racked up by ‘unsuspecting’ callers. But is this really the case?

Alright, adult and other proper premium services have always relied on high call rates for their premium products But, for a while, back in the 1990s, many businesses adopted freefone numbers for customer contact as they were getting so many calls. These days, however, a growing amount of contact with businesses is through IM, email, skype, text and even social media channels. As a result, businesses have started to use premium or local numbers again for call centres calls – to justify having call centre staff.

While I am clearly not your average telephone user, I have long used chat services and IM and email to contact businesses as it is cheaper, quicker and easier. ‘Normal’ callers however don't always trust these ways of contacting business.

As a result, Ofcom is looking to re-order numbering. Again. It is also proposing insisting on putting more warning messages in calls to tell people exactly what they are likely to be spending when they call a particular number.

But will this make any difference? Probably not. To be told that a call is going to cost £X per minute doesn’t really tell you how much the call will cost, as the one variable in the equation is time.

Similarly, the move could be damaging to an already damaged PRS business, where margins are getting tighter and call volumes are on the slide.

While the arbitrage market goes from strength to strength (for better or worse) it is predicated on leveraging more and more international traffic. Domestic calling to ordinary companies for help and advise, or for important things such as enquiries to HMRC (the tax office) – something cited by Ofcom as a particular issue – are not really fit for purpose any more. While I am all for operators make some money out of calls, sometimes you have to pick your battles. Confusing ordinary people is not the modern way.

As more and more OTT services start to arrive – especially apps that let you call PRS numbers from mobile at a landline rate – then any premium on mobile calling is starting to be eroded. Maybe, while Ofcom has its rethinking cap on, it needs to look at a radical shake up of numbering and what can be used where.

I’d be interested to hear what you think…

Friday, 10 May 2013

The people have spoken: and they want mobile PoS

As 2013 progresses apace, we edge ever nearer to mobile payments breaking through into mainstream use. A study by Timetric reveals that consumer demand is going to force retailers, mobile companies and technology providers to start implementing true mobile point of sale technologies in shops.
Meanwhile, Square – which takes payments from cards onto smartphones – has decided to start wrapping local recommendations into its payments app in a drive to start to make recommendation more relevant. The thinking behind Square’s approach is to not rely on who is checking in where, but who is buying what where and what you yourself have bought. This, it believes, will help drive more mobile sales as users start to trust the recommendations.
This move away from being location-specific recommendation and with recommendations from friends driving viral uptake of services or sales, is something that we are likely to see a lot more of over the coming months. Its not so much about what your limited number of friends recommend, but more about what people who like what you like, buy what you buy and so on that will drive the next era of mobile-social recommendations.
This in turn, believes, Square at least, will drive more mobile payments.
But as consumers get evermore used to spending money on and through the mobile devices, there is potentially a black cloud looming. The UK’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has launched an investigation into whether kids – though or exclusively – are being unduly pressurized into making in app and in game purchases – especially within in free games.
The OFT believes that this is on the rise and that thousands of pounds are being somewhat coerced out of innocent players and its is being assisted by the growing ease with which consumers can pay in-app.
And this is quite a conundrum. One of the key USPs for mobile payments – especially seamless and buried payment processes – is this ease of use. Sadly, it seems that that very ease of use is being taken advantage of and millions of pounds are being pulled out of peoples’ pockets unwillingly.
It should be stressed that, at this stage, the OFT is not investigating specific breaches of the Regulations. The OFT is inviting stakeholders, including games developers and hosting services, to provide information to help it understand the prevailing practices in this market. It has set an initial deadline of 28 June for submissions. This consultation itself is expected to last until October 2013, at which point the OFT will indicate its intentions going forward.
Until the OFT publishes its initial findings those involved in supplying freemium apps will need to consider whether they are doing enough to ensure parents are aware of the practical steps they can already take to protect children including .
making sure a child using a smartphone/iPad doesn’t know the password/pin needed to make purchases.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Time to love SMS again...

It comes as no surprise that SMS revenues for operators are set to be hammered by OTT messaging services such as iMessage and Whatsapp to name but two. I know I use both extensively and now find it quite shocking when I actually have to send a text. And if text is the only option, I now try and use Facebook messaging instead – especially now I can flick my friends faces across the screen while waiting for a reply.
The rise of messaging technologies that act a bit like text is unsurprising: for starters its largely free, so of course people are going to use it. But I think it also reflects once again how out of touch with consumers network operators are. SMS became a mass market consumer tool pretty much by accident: it wasn’t designed to be used by users, it was for engineers. As more people used and started to want to share more stuff such as photos – as they increasingly were with email – operators gave us MMS. And it was rubbish.
Now operators face the same problem again. While consumers got used to doing more and more with email – but couldn’t do it via mobile easily – they wanted to do it with text. And the operators blew it. Now they have people wanting to do much more with their messages: share their location, share content and data, find out who else is near them and message them and generally start to combine all the thinks they can do with social and mobile and other apps into messaging.
And the operators appear once again to have blown it. At least if the recent research by Informa for the FT is to be believed (See front page). Users are flocking in droves to these free OTT messaging services, while social media DM is also eroding SMS numbers.
And it is set to cost the operators dearly. They are already seeing SMS profits drop and the decline appears, currently, to be exponential as more smartphones hit the market and more users switch messaging services to save money and get more functions.
But the operators don’t have to just stand by and watch it happen. SMS still has one great USP: its cross network and, so long as you can get a signal, it works. Operators need to look at how to capitalise on this and turn SMS into something far richer and far reaching for all users.
While there are moves to let text users update Facebook et al using text. The operators need to look at how to develop an all encompassing messaging service, not limited to 160 characters, that allows seamless sending of photos, movies and data, that can use location information and can be of variable charges – to allow for purchasing of things – to make it relevant and leverage its cross network, work anywhere capability.
Text need not die and it would be a shame if it did, but only the operators can save it now…