Architecture and Hardware Mobile commerce opportunities and challenges

Interface Design For Mobile Commerce

Understanding the unique characteristics of m-commerce to enhance and improve the user interface.
  1. Introduction
  2. Elements for Effective M-Commerce Interface Design
  3. Conclusion
  4. References
  5. Authors
  6. Footnotes
  7. Tables

The rapid growth of mobile telephony has provided a foundation for m-commerce, namely, e-commerce activities carried out via a mobile device, such as a cell phone or PDA [8]. Proponents of m-commerce claim its growth and scale will exceed that of e-commerce. Such increases, however, appear slower than predicted for various reasons, including delays in technology standardization, limited mobile Internet coverage, and poor service quality.

Technology development is seriously challenged when users are slow to adopt the new technology; therefore, among the many cited reasons for slow growth, we focus here on the consumer perspective. We investigated the distinct characteristics of m-commerce in order to discover its strengths and vulnerabilities and are able to offer design prescriptions to enhance the interactivity of the interface, hence encouraging users to adopt m-commerce.

Two characteristics of the mobile Internet and its devices define consumer purchase patterns: the mobile setting and the mobile device constraints. While consumers enrich their shopping experience by taking advantage of instant Internet access (mobile setting), current mobile devices also constrain consumers, due to their slow CPUs and limited processing power, low bandwidth, and awkward input/output devices (mobile device constraints).

The mobile setting comprises three aspects: spatiality, temporality, and contextuality [4]. Spatiality encompasses the mobility of both users and devices by referring to the ability of consumers to roam anywhere while carrying their mobile devices. Temporality means mobile users can access the Internet instantly, even while engaged in a peripheral task. Contextuality is concerned with the milieu in which users conduct their mobile tasks, such as the degree of interaction with others. In order to provide task-relevant services, a context-aware application utilizes information on consumers’ mobile settings, including the user’s location and the people and resources nearby [11]. The fact that consumers shop in diverse contexts requires special attention [9]. While involved in a peripheral task (listening for a bus driver to announce the next stop), the consumer’s cognitive resources assigned to the mobile transaction (purchasing a concert ticket) are limited. The multitasking nature of consumer behavior requires m-commerce interfaces designed to support users’ limited attention.

Mobile device constraints are a function of the mobile setting. Small enough to be portable, mobile devices employ fewer resources than desktop computers [2]. As mobile technology improves, the features of mobile devices will become equivalent to those of desktop computers, except for the screen size. Some mobile devices, such as the Nokia 9290 communicator, have larger screens, but even these remain much smaller than the smallest desktop display. Thus, the m-commerce interface should be developed to compensate for the limited visual display of the devices. The mobile setting and device constraints suggest successful e-commerce interface design does not necessarily translate to successful m-commerce design. It is therefore imperative to improve the design elements of m-commerce interfaces to foster consumer adoption.

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Elements for Effective M-Commerce Interface Design

To develop effective m-commerce interfaces, we need a reference framework that informs us on how customer interfaces are shaped. We chose the seven design elements of the customer interface (7Cs) because they provide a comprehensive framework for analyzing m-commerce interfaces [10]. According to the 7Cs, a customer interface in e-commerce is composed of: context, content, community, customization, communication, connection, and commerce (see the table here). In the design of the 7Cs, prescriptions for each element need to be considered within the environment brought about by the mobile setting that increases the user’s cognitive burden and the mobile device constraints that demand careful deliberation on structuring the content appropriate to small screens. To do this, we describe what each element connotes in e-commerce, then, how it should be adapted to accommodate the characteristics of m-commerce.

Our primary motivation has been a desire to reduce consumer reluctance in adopting m-commerce. We quickly realized one inhibitor is the intimidating existing m-commerce interface developed on the foundation of e-commerce designs.

Context captures how Web sites are developed, consisting of functionality and aesthetics [10]. Given the mobile setting, the linking structure that connects pages seamlessly but efficiently should be provided, so that even distracted consumers can easily navigate through the material. Structuring a menu in a shallow (fewer levels but more choices per level) rather than a deep hierarchy (more levels but fewer choices per level) is recommended because a deep hierarchy increases the cognitive burden by forcing more choices over more levels [6]. Another alternative is adopting a layered sequential selection process employing sub-menus linked to the tasks users are most likely to proceed to. This differs from a field selection process requiring users to return to the main menu to move on to the next process [9]. Insufficient display space requires partitioning information into separate pages, thus making the issue of section breakdown important. Users must scroll up and down more often to read the separate pages and the resulting increase in their navigation activity significantly lowers their performance [3]. If a page is provided containing a brief summary with key content, users can better understand a body of information fragmented over separate pages [2].

Content focuses on what a site presents, comprising the offering, appeal, multimedia mix, and content type [10]. The mix of product information (offering mix) or promotional messages (appeal mix) can be adapted according to consumers’ purchase environment by virtue of context-aware applications. The proximate selection method makes the nearby located-objects emphasized or easier to choose [11]. Such located-objects include a non-physical service routinely accessed from particular locations (such as bank accounts) or the set of places users want to know about (gas stations or restaurants, for example) [11]. Multimedia mix is recommended to overcome limitations due to the lack of output screens. By converting some part of content into audio format, the output space can be saved [7]. Non-speech sound is also advised, given its language-independent and fast nature [1].

Community concerns interaction between users, including interactive and non-interactive communication. Shared information regarding mobile setting enhances interactive communication between users: they can connect to other users who reside nearby, or to those who have useful knowledge about products. Since consumers sometimes feel more satisfied when shopping with friends, interactive communication enabling opinion exchange about products is beneficial. Such capability can be realized with information exchange methods available on a small screen (for example, Short Messaging Service (SMS) or graphics describing products transferred through a user’s contact list).

Customization refers to a site’s ability to tailor itself (tailoring) or to be tailored by users (personalization) [10]. Information on a user’s mobile setting enables the automatic adaptation of the mobile interface (tailoring), and some part of such tailoring is associated with content. Customization reduces information load by filtering unnecessary information, thus alleviating the constraints of the limited visual display. Moreover, m-commerce provides potential for personalization, because mobile devices always carry the user’s assigned identity.

Communication is defined as dialogue between sites and users: broadcast, interactive, and hybrid [10]. Targeted advertising through SMS or video mail is worth consideration. Time and weather changes are useful cues for selecting a message to be broadcast (selling skiing equipment when it snows, for example). Alternatives to the limited keypad input devices are needed to promote consumer feedback, such as multiple-choice answers or multimedia formats, such as voice and video mail transfer.

Connection refers to the extent of formal linkages between sites, consisting of outsourced content, percentage of home site content, and pathways of connections [10]. In mobile settings, pathways to other sites provide users with information needed in dynamic settings. The adaptive map linked only to the Web sites of nearby stores reduces the number of alternative pathways. A continuing concern is that consumers may still feel lost while navigating along these pathways, as the limited display makes it difficult to utilize navigation aids, such as a brief site map that helps users identify their locations. Accordingly, placing an icon that leads to the starting page with one click of cancel button is recommended.

Commerce is concerned with interfaces related to sales of goods and product services, such as a shopping cart and order tracking [10]. A secure payment method demanding minimal attention is required in the distracting mobile setting. By inserting a certificate of authentication into mobile phones, three parties—consumers, financial service providers, and m-commerce retailers—conduct mutual authentication [5]. Condensing a set of processes across several steps into a one-click checkout process becomes available by taking advantage of the known user profile containing a user’s name, address, and a preferred delivery option.

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Our primary motivation has been a desire to reduce consumer reluctance in adopting m-commerce. We quickly realized one inhibitor is the intimidating existing m-commerce interface developed on the foundation of e-commerce designs. New interface design suggestions must be made that consider both a user’s limited attention span and the device constraints. All the design elements listed in the table here are constructed to suit the two unique characteristics of m-commerce. The 7Cs associated with m-commerce interfaces emphasize the importance of instant access to the desired information and an easy and simple transaction process. Such changes will induce consumers to make more m-commerce-based purchases as they can make informed decisions in a more user-friendly environment.

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UT1 Table. The seven design elements of the m-commerce customer interface.

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    8. Mennecke, B. and Strader, T. Mobile Commerce: Technology, Theory and Applications. Iowa State University, 2002.

    9. Pascoe, J., Ryan, N., and Morse, D. Using while moving: HCI issues in fieldwork environments. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction 7, 3 (2000), 417–437.

    10. Rayport, J. and Jaworski, B. Introduction to E-Commerce. McGraw-Hill, New York, 2001.

    11. Schilit, B., Adams, N., and Want, R. Context-aware computing applications. In Proceedings of the IEEE Workshop on Mobile Computing Systems and Applications. (Santa Cruz, CA, 1995).

    This work was supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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