Douglas OrrSccope is one of the best mobile price comparison services I have seen so far, and has a mobile site, an iPhone app, as well as services on the Vodafone and T-Mobile mobile platforms.

I’ve been talking to Douglas Orr, the founder of parent company Cogenta, about Sccope’s mobile services, and how he sees the mobile commerce market developing over the next few years. He also has an interesting solution to the problem of making mobile checkouts easier for customers.

Douglas will be speaking about the future of mobile commerce at Econsultancy’s Future of Digital Marketing 2010 event, held in London on June 16.

How long has Sccope been going? 

As a business, we have been going for four years, delivering price management services to tier one retailers. We’re not always allowed to say who they are, but it includes many large and well-known retailers in the UK. 

We have the shopping mall retailer data if you like, not the flea market. If you look at the retailer price data on the Sccope products, they will be nationally recognised brands. 

For these tier one retailers, the exclusion of multiple listings from lesser-known retailers means a more compelling proposition both for them and for consumers, as they will recognise the names they see when they search for products. 

There isn’t really space for too many results on a mobile anyway; people don’t want page after page of results, many of which will be meaningless to consumers, with little variation in pricing. 

Some price comparison sites will simply list every retailer and matching product for a particular search, but this doesn’t always make sense. Our ‘shopping mall’ approach, i.e. showing the retailers you would expect to see on the high street is a better proposition for leading brands. 

We have an online site as well, but the business is primarily focused around offline price research. 

How has the iPhone app performed since launch? 

We have had 40,000 paid downloads since the app was launched earlier this year, and the average user makes two searches per week. We’ve had 1m searches in all, which is remarkable given that we are in the early stages of mobile commerce. 

Are many people actually buying through the app? 

Not many at this time, though we expect this to change. Unlike online, price comparison sites using affiliate marketing lack the mechanisms to track transactions from intent to actual purchase. 

At the moment, these tools either don’t exist at all or only exist in pieces, and affiliate networks and others are feverishly looking for ways to solve this problem and extend their reach. 

They recognise the increasing popularity of mobile commerce, but realise that tracking can be difficult. 

We are launching our own new mobile product soon, which will provide the ability to track sales. I’m excited about the potential, because when correctly implemented, m-commerce can be more engaging than e-commerce. 

Can you tell me about the new payment system you are introducing?

It’s a service for both retailers and customers, which should make mobile commerce payments easier for both. Customers can register their payment and delivery details with Sccope, and then use these details to make two-click purchases from participating retailers by entering a username and password: 

This will allow retailers to get closer to customers’ desire to act immediately on pieces on information they receive or on impulses, something which may be prompted by a price alert from us on a product they are already interested in, or an offer from a retailer. 

It will be a two-step process of entering a password and confirming address and payment details. 

If you are going to be successful in mobile commerce, you have to reduce payment friction. 

This is an area in which Apple has led the way by getting customers to register their payment details when opening iTunes accounts so they can buy with just one click. 

We could have made this a one-click process ourselves but we added this extra conformation step as a reassurance for customers.

This kind of service, and m-commerce in general, appeals to a cash-rich but time-poor audience. People can make a purchase while they are sitting on the train home from work, or waiting for a bus – there are plenty of potential scenarios. 

How many retailers are on board for this payments scheme? 

We are talking to ten retailers about going live with this other the next three months, but we will go live with two initially.  

How impartial are the price listings on the app – can retailers pay to get a more prominent position? 

I have had retailers asking me how they can get to the top of the list on Sccope, and I reply that the easiest way to do this is to lower prices. 

However, there are other value propositions that retailers offer, such as a free wall bracket with a TV, or extended warranties, so we can add this to Sccope if the retailers provide the content for us to display. 

In the next update of the app we will see a ‘best value’ button to show offers like this. So John Lewis, for instance could provide us with a file to say that this TV comes with a warranty worth £200, and we can then use this to push them up the list. 

We are trying to provide a platform that allows retailers to express these propositions so users are exposed to more than just simple price comparisons. 

What other platforms is Sccope on? How do usage patterns compare? 

We have an iPhone app, we are on the Vodafone 360 platform, as well as T Mobile web n walk, and we have a Blackberry app ready to go, which will also include the option of mobile purchase. 

In addition, we have a very good mobile website, and we are looking at Android and Nokia as well. 

They’re all different, and the level of engagement varies between the platforms. Essentially, the closer you are to where the user is, the higher usage you get. 

So on Vodafone 360 for instance, the Sccope widget is contained within the apps folder, which means that mobile users have a number of steps to go through to find it, therefore engagement is lower.

On the iPhone though, all the apps are on the main menu, and though we may still be two or three screens away, we have much better levels of engagement. 

Is mobile commerce finally taking off this year? 

I think it is very much starting to, though we’re not quite there yet. It’s a chicken and egg situation for many people, and when more people catch on and realise the value and convenience it offers, then it will change, 

You have to get to a critical mass of users, and there has to be a compelling value proposition for both retailers and consumers. It will come to a tipping point where it becomes viral, and I think the kind of payment solution we are putting in place brings it a step closer. 

What do you see happening with mobile commerce and Sccope in the next few years? 

I believe we are going to see mobile commerce become as significant as online commerce, and we are creating something with Sccope that will enable retailers to test that proposition before launching into developing their own mobile sites.