Modest: Mobile Commerce Sucks – Now Let Us Fix It

Harper Reed tells us why PayPal acquisition will make buying stuff on your phone easier than ever

Many of us still only use our smartphones for communication and online interaction, but with device penetration rates continuing to soar, what do brands need to do in order to get us to routinely buy things on our phones?

Harper Reed first gained worldwide attention by presiding over the victorious 2013 Barack Obama re-election campaign, where in his role as CTO he was integral in driving the social media movement that helped win votes across the US.

But since then he has moved into the world of e-commerce, to try and solve one of the biggest issues facing the technology world today –just how do you get people to buy goods on their smartphones?

TechWeekEurope sat down with Reed to hear all about how Modest, the ecommerce company he started back in 2013 and which has recently been acquired by PayPal, is set to change the way you shop online, and even use your mobile device, for ever.

Tap and Buy

Harper_Reed_2015Reed (pictured left), and Modest and PayPal as a whole, feels that these issues can be solved, or at least improved, by “contextual commerce” – namely, making it clearer and easier to buy things online.

Modest, which was started in early 2013 by Reed and three others from the Obama campaign, “specifically to solve the issues around buying things on mobile phones,” Reed says, as many of the major online retailers were lagging far behind smaller, nimbler opponents.

“Usually it sucks to buy things on mobile –there are a few things that aren’t terrible, but for the most part, it’s pretty bad,” he says, “Mobile commerce just isn’t quite there yet.”

Users are often being let down by a poor ecommerce experience, and so Reed and his team set out to try and solve the problem for all retailers, not just those who could afford to spend money on an in-house engineering team or spend money acquiring start-ups in what is an incredibly fast-moving market.

“It sucks”

“Mobile commerce is happening –it just sucks, it’s terrible,” Reed states.

shopping1This is where Modest and PayPal can help out brands of all sizes, as Reed says “I don’t want to build software just for one or two stores, I want to build software for every brand, whatever country they’re in.”

Mobile commerce has grown hugely in developing markets such as China and India, and Reed says it is one of those areas of technology where the developed world is actually playing catch-up.

“Mobile commerce has changed, it has aggressively changed – but I think it’s changed because it’s being used, and being used aggressively – it’s being used by almost everyone.”

The entire online shopping experience has evolved totally from its infancy a decade or so ago, when customers had to fill out lengthy forms in order to complete their purchase, something which is still sadly going on for many of us today.

This needs to change, Reed says, to make the experience suck less. “The future – and the future for all of us….is making that experience, from when you get the email to when you check out, as short as possible,” he says, “anyone who is successful in ecommerce is shrinking this process!”

Contextual commerce can go a long way to helping with this, making it easier to start the buying process via ‘Buy buttons’ on social media, as well as email links, blog posts, and native advertising – all of which have seen strong progress in recent years, but still have a way to go, Reed says.

“This won’t save the world….but it will make the Internet less terrible.”

And smaller, more agile companies can play a key role on this, Reed believes, as their disregard for the old systems of working can completely reinvent the entire market.

“Newer companies don’t have the same rules as older ones do,” he says, “What’s happening is that companies are not worried about how businesses used to be run, so they’re just doing whatever needs to happen.”

“We’ve had such a shift in how businesses need to be run, that we don’t have to follow the old rules anymore…we can’t apply the patterns of the past.”

Time to grow

paypal pcPayPal’s acquisition of Modest last month was its first as an independent company, and shows real promise in looking to improve the e-commerce experience for its customers.

Reed is understandably excited about gaining the backing of such a big name in the e-commerce space, and one that can really benefit from the technology Modest has developed.

PayPal has a beautiful history of growing retailers and providers, so it’s just about how do we become another arrow in that quiver?”

Recently, online commerce has suffered from a lack of effective innovation, being dominated by large organisations which can afford the latest improvements but are bad at using it, whereas small companies who would be able to benefit and grow more with such tools are squeezed out.

PayPal can help reverse this trend, Reed says, as the company, “builds tools not just for the big enterprise, or just for the small business – it’s for every single facet of the industry.”

“It doesn’t matter how big you are, or what industry you’re in, PayPal is building tools for that.”

And now it is time for Modest to help support this, giving Reed and his team the opportunity to what he says can, “really lift up all of mobile commerce”

“If we can just make it so that everyone has these same tools,” he says, “then we can fix mobile commerce for everyone”

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