Wireless Local Communities in Mobile Commerce

Wireless Local Communities in Mobile Commerce

Jun Sun
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-054-7.ch143
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In mobile commerce (m-commerce), consumers engage a ubiquitous computing environment that allows them to access and exchange information anywhere and anytime through wireless handheld devices (Lyttinen & Yoo, 2002). While consumers generally sit before personal computers to browse e-commerce websites through the Internet, they are free to move around while connected in m-commerce and can truly be called mobile consumers. Compared with stationary consumers in e-commerce, mobile consumers have special information needs regarding their changing environment. Consumers mainly access information through wireless portals in m-commerce. A lot of these portals provide mobile consumers information specific to where they are. For example, various location-based services have emerged to push information about what is available and occurring nearby to mobile consumers (Rao & Minakakis, 2003). Such wireless portal services overcome the difficulty of searching information with handheld devices, typically cell phones. However, pushing information to users based on where they are may annoy them, because this approach disregards the specific needs and interests of people in context and deprives their control over what they want to know (Barkhuus & Dey, 2003). In contrast to information pushed by product or service providers, consumers are likely to regard peer-to-peer reference groups as credible sources of product/service information and be open to their informational influence (Miniard & Cohen, 1983). For example, if consumers hear from others that nearby stores offer discounts on certain commodities, they may go to these stores to have a look for themselves. To capitalize on such business opportunities in m-commerce, this article proposes a community portal approach, a so-called wireless local community (WLC). As the name suggests, a WLC is a virtual community that allows mobile consumers in a functionallydefined area to exchange information about what is available and occurring nearby with each other through wireless handheld devices. By far, most virtual communities are built upon the infrastructure of the Internet and they refer to “… groups of people with common interests and needs who come together online… to share a sense of community with like-minded strangers, regardless of where they live” (Hagel & Armstrong, 1997, p.143). Like members in these online communities, WLC members must share something that they are interested in and need in common. Because WLC membership is geographically determined, WLC coverage areas must “supply” what can potentially meet the interests and needs of mobile consumers in them, and such areas may include: shopping plazas, tourist parks, and sports facilities, among others. These functionally-defined areas, which determine the scope, theme, and membership of WLCs, are the settings in which consumer behavior occurs and they constitute the supply contexts of local consumers. In this sense, WLCs are context-based virtual communities, in contrast to most on-line communities, which are generally topic-based. This article first outlines the macro-level conceptual design of the WLC approach and discusses its technical, operational, and economical feasibilities. The success of WLCs, like that of online communities, largely depends on how micro-level implementations can promote member participation and enhance member experience. Based on an understanding of how mobile consumers share contextual information through the mediation of WLCs, this article discusses specific implementation issues.

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