Banks, retail must embrace mobile: Google

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Banks, retail must embrace mobile: Google

Get on the bandwagon or miss out.

Google has urged the big banks and retail stores to rethink their mobile strategies in order to take advantage of the growing use of smartphones for online research and purchases.

The online search giant released new statistics this week showing 52 percent of Australians owned a smartphone - compared to 37 percent a year ago (pdf).

About half of the 1000 people surveyed used iPhones, while a quarter claimed to have an Android device.

Of the total mobile users, 65 percent used their smartphones to access the internet daily, leading Google to predict that a billion people globally would use their mobile phone as their primary internet access device this year.

But Google financial services industry leader, Mel Silva, told attendees of the CeBIT conference in Sydney this week that focus on mobile was still missing from the online strategies of Australian companies.

"We're still pretty staggered by the lack of takeup of mobile-optimised sites... you've just got to get the basics right," she said.

A recent iTnews survey of 22 Federal Government department websites found less than a quarter were optimised for mobile devices.

However, Silva pointed to banks and big retail stores as the key targets missing out on the opportunities presented by better use of mobile devices.

While Silva pointed to Woolworths' recent virtual shopping market and Commonwealth Bank's real estate apps as examples of a good mobile strategy, she said banks and retail in general were yet to grasp the importance of mobiles and online in their over-riding strategies.

"Particularly from the baking perspective, I see this is a huge blind spot," she said.

"I think there's a fairly entrenched view that relationships can only be built in the branch... but in this generation that are coming through now.

"How you deliver those kind of relationship-based services, particularly around home loans, financial planning, that sort of stuff to the generation of kids who are sort of 18 to 25 now who have grown up with the internet, [mobile] is a really big blind spot."

Chief information officers of Australia's major banks have repeatedly pointed to online magnates like Google, Apple and Facebook as a key source of future competition.

Apple, for example, could leverage its mobile market share and iTunes payment ecosystem to encourage customers to bypass banks as an intermediary for payments and information.

Banks have particularly been keen to raise their own awareness of mobile devices as a core strategy for development.

Suncorp's chief executive of business services, Jeff Smith, most recently said the online companies were a major source of inspiration for best practice on online use, while Commonwealth Bank's Michael Harte has pointed to user data gathered online as the "new oil of the digital world".

Harte told CeBIT this week the bank would attempt to enable real-time financial transactions through social networks Facebook and Twitter.

It already serves four million unique visits to the standard bank site, catering for around 40 disparate mobile and tablet types.

Silva rejected notions that Australia was falling behind on mobile strategies like mobile payments, describing the core functionality another inevitability for large companies.

"I'm highly optimistic they'll get there because there's a lot to lose," Silva said.

She noted that large companies were beginning to grasp that online use was no longer "the desk in the corner of your house".

It was an inevitable trend, she said, as big retail moved from seeing online as a threat to an opportunity.

Myer particularly has recently stated plans to spend $5 million on an overhauled online system with the aim of generating $300 million in sales on its website.

David Jones has committed to spend a "large component” of its projected $70 million to $80 million in capital expenditure this financial year on online retail.

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