April 29, 2013

The Super-Connected Commuter

By Hisham Isa, Vice President (Marketing)

"What is your highest priority item to take as you leave the house?"

This is a question that we asked more than 3600 consumers in 20 countries -- from Bangladesh to the United States -- across the BuzzCity Network.

The number one answer by far was the mobile phone, ranking higher than money or keys.

But while mobile devices have become an integral part of people's daily routines, consumers are hungry for more content - particularly local content - and they are open to mobile commerce, a sector that is still largely underdeveloped.

Travel Trends

Commuters generally use their phones to go online before heading out as well as during commutes.  You might think that before leaving home or the office commuters would check traffic news or the weather, but at the moment, they are largely using their phones to interact with each other - by email and social media. 

Connecting with friends and colleagues is important once they are on the road as well. But so is entertainment.

It's worth pointing out two things here:

First, the majority of our survey respondents do not drive to work. After all, it's difficult to watch a video and keep your eyes on the road!  Forty-four percent of respondents use public transport, 25% walk or cycle to work. Just 21% drive their own vehicles.  There are a few notable exceptions:  nearly one in two mobile commuters in Indonesia drives to work, 46% in Thailand and 43% in the US.

Second, one-third of consumers are demanding more free wi-fi . . . in hotels, cafes, restaurants and eventually in planes, trains and automobiles as well.  The percentage of connectivity-craved consumers is only going to rise.

Real Time Interaction

Yet at the moment, there's very little interaction taking place between commuters and businesses. While 14 percent browse online catalogues during their commute, only six percent engage in some form of m-commerce.

Some transport and travel companies are a bit ahead of the game. For example, Metrorail in South Africa provides real time information about train delays, Jet Airways has a mobisite for checking fares and flight status and Indian Railways makes it easy to buy tickets in advance.

But travel service providers need to see mobile as an integral part of the consumer's travel experience and as an extension of their own offerings. Taxi booking apps are a good example of this. Companies could also learn from mobile retailers, whose business models are focused on attracting consumers to their site, engaging with the right content and converting this interest into sales. 

There is a very large opportunity here for companies to develop apps and mobisites that are relevant to consumers. The best content will be local, customisable and personalised. At the same time, when it comes to transactions, companies need to ensure that m-commerce is easy; in a number of our markets, people say it's still simply easier to pay with a credit card than with their phones.

In the Car

With large segments of the population driving to work in some markets, mobile usage is hardly limited to people riding trains and buses.

In urban areas, drivers are using apps to check out traffic patterns, view live feeds from street cameras and find the fastest way home. In Singapore, this information is provided by a government service, while in California, commuters are using crowd-sourced data to avoid jams.

Automakers and mobile service providers meanwhile are teaming up to make it easier for drivers and passengers to access information online. Currently, most people are using data roaming on their smartphones to connect. But T-Mobile and Audi recently announced an in-car wireless data plan for US$15/month. Audi also creates a wireless network in its cars that can be accessed by up to eight devices at once and it uses Google Voice and Google Earth to make it easier for drivers to find where they're going.

The Super-Connected Commuter

Advancements in mobile devices open up new possibilities as well for tools that we've only just begun to imagine, from finding a good parking spot and paying for it via mobile to processing visa applications and going through airport security.

If you are not already producing content and services for commuters and travellers, now is the right time to do so.

We have not yet entered the age of the Super-Connected Commuter -- more free wi-fi, content and transport innovations need to come online first - but consumers are ready for it. They're just waiting for businesses to catch up.