Smartphones and tablets now account for six per cent of all product sales in the UK. This may not sound like a lot, but it’s one of the most obvious signs we’ve had of a new retail revolution. It signals the next big step from online shopping in general; instead of just being able to buy products from the comfort of our own homes, we’re able to place orders from absolutely anywhere.

These handheld devices are infiltrating other areas of consumer life too. One particular development which appears to have integrated itself into the day-to-day lives of people across the UK is mobile ticketing. Much in the same way that many offices use technology to move towards becoming completely paperless, companies and consumers have embraced this exciting new development.

What is mobile ticketing?

In short it’s is a process which allows mobile phone owners to purchase, receive and use tickets for a wide variety of purposes, using only their handsets.

As an example, a rail traveller could (using a dedicated application or mobile-optimised landing page) search for the journey they need to take, complete the ordering process and then have a unique ticket sent directly to their phone – all within the space of a few minutes. Once the time comes to take said trip, the passenger would be required to present the image of the ticket to staff at the station or on the train itself. At this point, some mobile tickets are electronically registered using QR codes or standard barcodes, while others simply show visual proof of purchase.

This simple process is flexible and can be used within a number of other areas, including air travel, concerts and sporting events.

What are the benefits of mobile ticketing for business?

Mobile ticketing is convenient and cost-effective for both the provider and the customer, with production charges and waiting times all but eradicated. By improving the accessibility of tickets, more people will be ready to buy. This means that businesses are better placed to make profits and capitalise on any of the associated opportunities discussed further on in this article.

The reliance we place on our smartphones and the speed at which this dependency is growing says a lot about the future of consumer technology. These devices are essentially becoming extensions of our bodies. This all means that we rarely go anywhere without our beloved handsets, so the chances of losing that all-important ticket are kept to a minimum.

Going back to the paperless office comparison – mobile ticketing is environmentally friendly, in that there is no waste to deal with once the pass has been used. The image or secure web page that was initially sent to the buyer can simply be deleted when it is no longer needed.

For event organisers, single-use electronic tickets could even signal the end of touting. With buyers unable to sell their uniquely coded passes for extra money on auction sites and outside of venues, fans are more likely to be able to get in to see their favourite performers and sports teams.

How popular is mobile ticketing?

With so many benefits on offer, it doesn’t really come as any surprise that mobile ticketing has been widely embraced by brands and consumers.

In 2013, Juniper Research published a report entitled ‘Mobile Ticketing Strategies: Air, Rail, Metro, Sports & Entertainment 2013-2018’. In it, the researchers looked in detail at the latest developments and challenges facing companies and consumers across the world. Juniper predicted a very bright future, suggesting that more than 16 billion tickets will be sent to handheld devices in that four year period.

According to the report, service providers across a wide range of industries will want to remove the need for paper tickets, with transport firms spearheading the movement. It also went as far as saying that, by 2018, app-based services which use 2D barcodes will account for the majority of ticket sales in developed markets.

While it’s smartphone users who seem to benefit most from these developments, SMS systems have also proved popular in certain areas and industries. For example, since 2011, the Swedish government has allowed people in certain cities to pay for the right to use public transport by sending simple codes, via text, to a predefined number – the charge would then be added to the user’s normal bill. This means passengers can pay for their journeys after boarding, saving their own time and the conductor’s. The fact that 65 per cent of Sweden’s bus tickets are now bought via mobile shows how well the system works.

How can brands capitalise?

Smartphone adoption has been growing steadily for some time now. One analyst, Silicon Valley’s Marc Andreessen, even suggested recently that standard phones (those without Wi-Fi capabilities) will be completely obsolete within the next three years. Data connections are also becoming the norm, with Mr Andreessen going on to predict that all devices (even in developing markets) will be hooked up to at least 3G internet within the next 10 years.

This kind of growth will no doubt fuel the mobile ticketing fire, so it seems pretty important that companies are prepared and know how to make the most of the new opportunities that arise. Allowing customers to benefit from using their handset screens as entry passes in the first place is a good start, but from there it’s all about strategy.

Juniper’s study highlighted the chances that businesses have to add value to the ticketing process. For example, mobiles provide a great platform for cross-promotion and the upselling of extra services and products. Organisations should therefore view mobile ticketing as an opportunity to excel; not just something they must do to keep up with the competition (although that could well be the case, too).

Providing tickets using mobile devices can also play a key part in customer retention efforts, especially when dedicated apps are involved. If the whole process is made as easy and efficient as possible, the chances of a buyer returning in the future are much higher. Taking this a step further, order tracking and the analysis of customer data will be made much more manageable when the streamlined process is completed electronically. This means that businesses are better positioned to implement things like loyalty schemes. For every 10 bus journeys a passenger takes, for example, they could be provided with one for free. Monitoring something like this over time would be a lot more difficult using a standard cash-for-paper system.

What are the challenges?

There are some downsides to mobile ticketing which brands should consider, though none they should necessarily view as obstacles. For a start, there is potential for visually validated tickets (those which are checked only by sight) to be forged. While this is also the case for physical tickets, textured materials and unique holograms can be used to minimise the risks. One of the easiest ways to make things difficult for fraudsters would be to use scanning systems, instead of relying on human judgement.

Mobile ticketing can also isolate those who don’t own a smartphone (or any phone at all, for that matter). QR codes, for example, rely on a certain screen size and image quality that many older and basic handsets simply don’t offer. As demonstrated in Sweden’s big cities, text messaging can be a good way to get around this, but it certainly has its limitations. If Marc Andreessen’s predictions are right, though, sellers will soon have less to worry about in this area.

From the consumer’s point of view, smartphones are becoming a lot more accessible. Even those who don’t have one right now are likely to enter the market at some point in the next few years. With devices on the budget end of the scale costing as little as £50, it may even be worth investing in one simply to benefit from the convenience offered by mobile ticketing.

This last one may seem a little trivial but it is perhaps the biggest issue facing consumers who use mobile tickets. The modern smartphone battery tends to last for around two days of normal use and even then, the capabilities of the latest handsets mean the definition of ‘normal use’ is up for debate. A few hours of watching films and playing games on the train could well put a phone to sleep, for example, meaning that all-important e-ticket might not be available when it is needed most.

The reliance we place on smartphones will no doubt encourage manufacturers to do what they can to extend battery lives and public charging points are also a little more common than they used to be, so things are only likely to get better here.

While there are a few things to consider, it’s pretty obvious that mobile ticketing has a lot to offer for both consumers and businesses. Above all, for consumers at least, convenience is the big selling point. Our five-inch phones are now expected to do the work of computers, televisions, DVD players, games consoles, and cameras; ticketing is simply another part of this convergence.

The main problems lie in the limitations of technology. Paper tickets, for instance, don’t require battery life to work and those with older black & white screens will no doubt be ignored. As device capabilities improve though, mobile ticketing should become even more accessible and businesses will likely begin to find more ways to combat any risks associated with forgery too.