The explosion of phrases with the "mobile" prefix is a reflection of how much mobile has become a part of our daily lives. For a while, everything was electronic (e-books, for example) and of course, a certain company has made the "i" prefix part of their brand identity. But the latest catchphrases are all connected to mobile - mobile finance (m-finance), mobile banking (m-banking), mobile payment (m-payment) and mobile commerce (m-commerce). Distinguishing between them can be difficult, and there isn't necessarily any common consensus as to the meaning of the different terms.

Perhaps it is easiest to use the regular meaning of each word, and then consider the mobile implications. Mobile finance is easy, a broad-based umbrella term that includes most of the others, and which basically covers any sort of financial transaction that uses mobile devices. M-banking refers specifically to banking functions (withdrawals, deposits, and so on) using mobile devices as either the medium for the transaction or as a unique identifier or both. M-payment is more specific: it refers to payments using mobile devices, through electronic wallets, near field communication (NFC) or other means.

The problematic term is "commerce" and oddly, that is the one that is of most interest to today's marketer. Rather than being about financial transactions, let's suggest that m-commerce is actually about the entire experience of shopping, and how it is being transformed by mobile. Being able to pay for goods and services using mobile (as described above) is certainly part of it, but that is only a small part.

In mobile commerce, consumers use their mobile devices not only at the very end of the sales funnel, when the deal is transacted, but at nearly every stage along the way. Mobile can help consumers discover new products, learn more information and influence their purchasing decisions.

Mobile advertising and marketing already keeps people involved and informed of new products and services, and as location-based services take off, users will be given information about offers and products that are nearby, opportunistically providing them with the chance to experience discovery through their mobile device.

Mobile search already enables consumers to get more information about the products that they are interested in. This is not limited feature-specific information, but also information about the origins of materials, whether the product was manufactured in an environmentally-conscious way, and even reviews, professional and otherwise. Another rising trend is for comparison shopping: consumers can identify desirable products from the range available on display at a bricks-and-mortar store, but can then use their mobile devices to check for cheaper online sources.

Retailers have been taking this activity into account by providing more information to in-store customers through QR codes and weblinks that take them to related media and more information. Other schemes to foster loyalty can also be deployed through the mobile channel, by offering electronic coupons and other benefits to shoppers through their mobile devices.

Alternatively, businesses can move the bulk of their efforts to the digital or mobile space. Venue ticketing, for example, has already done so, with electronic tickets often taking the place of the physical alternative. This may be more suitable for some industries than others. In Australia, Qantas already lets its passengers buy tickets, select seats and check baggage electronically, and offering some aspect of that already-digital transaction to mobile users is likely to happen sooner rather than later.

Other industries might not seem suited to m-commerce from end to end, but even so, some aspects may lend themselves to mobile use. Food and beverage outlets, for example, rely greatly on offering an in-store experience, but already, some fast food companies have robust couponing campaigns, which let consumers take advantage of special offers simply by showing the coupon (in the form of a JPG) to counter staff. Mobile can also streamline the process of getting reservations.

Whether or not we agree on definitions, the fact of the matter is that mobile is more than just a channel for monetary transactions. Having access to information and applications via the mobile channel turns the mobile device in the consumer's hand into a handy tool for retailers and marketers alike.

By Rohit Dadwal, Managing Director, APAC, Mobile Marketing Association