Brands compete with each other to provide best mobile experience

“The banks aren’t competing with the bank down the road anymore. They’re competing with my last good user experience with Amazon, or Google, or Apple. That’s really the mark.”

Michael Carter nailed it.

As I was interviewing the Prairie Cloudware Inc. co-founder and chief marketing officer for a story about the evolution of mobile banking apps, he made this comment while discussing banks’ current dilemma with today’s consumers. Carter’s observation also applies to the general state of the mobile experience in 2016. How can one brand be as good as or better than a consumer’s most trusted brands?

By Carter’s measuring stick, most brands fail to give consumers a great mobile experience. At least this is the conclusion I made after I experienced a recent mobile failure.

We’re at a point when the payment portion of the mobile experience is an afterthought. Sure, the transition to EMV in the U.S. has turned the in-store checkout into a clumsy experience. But what happens before and after the payment has become more important to the overall experience.

Some do it better than others and when the mobile experience isn’t a smooth one, it’s noticeable.

Roadblocks prevent a good experience

Plenti is a loyalty program American Express operates in the U.S. that includes retail partners such as AT&T, Exxon, Macy’s, Mobil, Nationwide, Rite Aid, Direct Energy, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Hulu. It’s not a deep lineup of merchants, but the program is less than a year old.

I joined Plenti when it was first announced to understand how it worked and linked my AT&T mobile account to the program. I began earning points for paying my monthly bill. But it wasn’t until the last two weeks that I began using Plenti at Rite Aid, and that’s what prompted me to write about my recent experience.

Plenti’s usefulness lies in your ability to redeem points at any participating retailer. I can use the points I earned from paying my mobile bill towards a purchase at Rite Aid. But here’s the thing: I had no idea I accrued about $10 worth of points until I was at a Rite Aid register one day.

My experience didn’t start well as a Rite Aid employee couldn’t scan the Plenti barcode on my phone after multiple attempts. I had to enter my phone number on the PIN pad. That was when the employee asked me if I wanted to apply my points balance towards the purchase.

I was confused at first because I didn’t know I had enough points to make a dent in the final price. And here’s where the mobile experience could use some work, at least in Plenti’s case.

What if Plenti placed beacons inside Rite Aid stores to communicate with the app once users entered the store? Of course, a consumer needs the app on their phone and the Bluetooth turned on to allow for this communication. But a beacon is a simple addition that could make the Plenti mobile experience better. And I might have spent more had I known a discount was waiting for me at the register.

This all circles back to what Carter said about how brands compete with each other these days, regardless of the retail segment. Consumers’ expectations are changing when it comes to how they interact with retailers. If Starbucks can provide a smooth mobile experience, why can’t Plenti?

The good thing for everyone is that we’re still very early in the process of defining what makes a great mobile experience. Even the so-called leaders such as Amazon, Starbucks and Uber have room to make their mobile apps better. And they might eventually steal ideas from each other in this competitive market.

This story was originally published on Mobile Payments Today.