Treat growth projections with caution

Recently, there has been a lot of coverage on the emerging mobile commerce sector, with various stakeholders launching trials and developing initiatives to develop a strong market position. In addition, there have also been numerous projections on the expected growth of this market in the coming years. Some of these projections are quite reasoned, but others are more outlandish, and appear to expect that in a few short years, mobile commerce will displace cash, checks and plastic.

These exaggerated growth projections garner headlines for the research firms as well as companies sponsoring the research.  However, in many cases, the reality tends to fall short of the projection.  For example, future projections of card spending made in 2005-2006 were not realized, as the industry was hit by a largely unanticipated financial crisis and economic recession in 2008-2009.

Growth projections typically suffer from a number of deficiencies.  One of the main problems is that researchers start their research by thinking of themselves as the average consumer, which then leads to biases in the research process. In addition, researchers often tend to take an overly-optimistic “blue sky” view, which does not factor in forces that can compromise the growth trajectory. One of the most powerful of these factors is inertia. Consumers typically need to have a compelling reason/motivation to change behavior, and will not automatically adapt behavior just because a new technology hits the market.

It should also be noted that the industry and general business press tend to use these projections from these research firms/analysts/sponsoring firms to fill column inches, without checking back to see if previous projections by those same firms were actually accurate predictors.

Getting back to mobile commerce, there is indeed reason to believe that the rapid penetration of the smartphone and consumers’ increased comfort with mobile apps augur well for strong growth in the mobile commerce market. However, we also need a sober assessment of some of the factors that may impact that growth; in addition to inertia, these include security and privacy concerns, regulatory developments, merchant acceptance, general economic growth, emergence/evolution of competing payments methods, and the need to develop a business model that will satisfy all stakeholders.