The mobile Internet is creating entirely new businesses as well as transforming traditional companies. A technology entrepreneur in Europe today is more likely to be building a business around a mobile application than a website. All kinds of businesses are using mobile technologies to improve operations, cut costs, and reach new markets and customers. The digital economy is flourishing on mobile devices as consumers access and buy apps, music, videos, books, magazines, and other content anytime from anywhere and receive many purchases instantly. They can also buy physical goods on the go using dedicated retailer apps from brick-and-mortar stores such as Tesco, IKEA, and Media Markt, or from online shopping platforms such as Amazon, eBay, and Net-a-Porter.
The app economy is flourishing. There have been more than 200 billion cumulative downloads from the various app stores since 2008. The rate of growth is mind-boggling: more than 100 billion downloads took place in 2013 alone, of which around 20 billion were in the EU.
Payment apps are increasingly popular, and some businesses are cutting out the cash register altogether (DASH, GoCardless, Uber, and Hailo, for example). There are more mobile bank accounts in Kenya than in the UK, but banks in Europe (as in other developed markets) are using mobile apps to transform the banking experience for consumers (you can deposit a check by taking a picture)—and winning plaudits from their customers in the process.
Retailers are embracing m-commerce. France’s Groupe Casino employs near-field communication (NFC) tags on shelves to help visually impaired customers download product information to their phones. It also uses NFC technology to help all customers track costs and speed up checkout. UK retailer John Lewis reports that more than half its online traffic comes from smartphones and tablets. The company’s mobile app topped a 2014 UK user poll of the best mobile shopping experiences, outpacing Amazon, among others.
Mobile commerce in the EU5 reached €23 billion in 2013 (up 76 percent from 2012) and accounts for 13 percent of all e-commerce. Nearly two-thirds of EU5 e-commerce purchases occur on tablets; the analogous figure for the U.S. is about 50 percent.
It’s not just a retail phenomenon, either. All kinds of businesses are finding innovative ways to put mobile devices and technologies to work. According to one survey in the U.S., more than 85 percent of B2B customers access content on their mobile devices. Another survey found that 56 percent of B2B customers read reviews, 55 percent access product information, and 50 percent compare features using mobile devices. Mobile commerce accounts for 3 to 5 percent of B2B sales, and mobile drives 7 to 10 percent of B2B traffic for tasks such as search. These numbers are bound to grow as more B2B users apply the lessons of the B2C marketplace to their businesses.