Shopping by Mobile Java App

I’ve been looking at the UK-based mobile shopping engine, Reporo. The app is free to download to Java-compatible phones, but if you want to see an online demo, there’s one here (click on “What Does it Look Like?”).

Once you’ve opened the application on your mobile, you can either search for a product or browse one of their retail partners. Retailers are split between Bricks and Mortar (eg Boots, Currys, WH Smiths, PC World, Oddbins) and established online retailers (eg CDWOW.com, Firebox.com, Figleaves.com). Once you’ve made your selection, you order via Reporo’s payment engine (PIN protected) and the transaction is deducted from your credit card details that they store for you.

It seems to be nice usability, pretty easy to navigate and intuitive to use. If I have slight criticism, it’s that the app perhaps tries to be too comprehensive in terms of choice, leading to too many options in the drop down menus at times. As a user, I’d expect it to be a “lite” version of what I could do online, rather than the full monty.

Reporo’s business model is that it’s free to use and Reporo take a commission on every sale generated.

This concept is one which has been tried online many times – a shopping portal or virtual mall. BarclaySquare springs to mind, as one example, started back in the late 90’s, which in turn started a rush to build similar sites. This was funded by Barclay’s Bank and never really took off, perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively. After all, bringing together a bunch of retailers in one place works offline, so why wouldn’t it work online? Shoppers didn’t see it this way however, seeing no rationale for using the site in an age where distance was suddenly dead.

So the two big questions about Reporo are; can the virtual mall concept work in mobile, when it’s already largely failed on the fixed-line internet? Secondly, will people use their mobiles to shop like this, when it’s always going to be easier to wait and use your computer, when you have access to it?

My take on the mobile virtual mall is that it might just work, although it might only be a short term thing. If you’ve got the app on your phone already (ignoring that this will be a significant challenge for the company), Reporo will be easier to browse and buy with than any alternative – the start point for other shopping on the mobile is to find a retailer’s WAP site in the first place, assuming they have one and assuming that it works. It’s just much easier to fire up Reporo and go from there.

In the longer term however, retailers will have a WAP site and it will work, which might just leave Reporo with a BarclaySquare #2 on their hands, unless they can change their model to suit that new climate.

The second question though is more fundamental. Are people ready to shop via their mobile? I can certainly see a niche developing for impulse purchase of things like books, CDs and gadgets. You read a review in a magazine, brochure or via RSS on your phone and want to order it before you forget. You don’t need to see a picture or find out much more about it, as a book is a book is a book. So you open up Reporo and order with a few clicks.

The question really is, how big is this niche and how quickly will it develop?

Because revenue generation is only one half of the battle for Reporo – in order to be successful, they need to keep their retail partners happy. And the only way to keep companies of this size and calibre happy, you’re going to need to shift real volume or else they’ll simply withdraw from what they’ll see as a distraction.

Like any start-up, Reporo faces its fair share of challenges. But I think they might be on to something here.

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