New Ways to Sell Cars and Houses
By Steve Wallage, Thu Mar 27 13:30:00 GMT 2003

MMS is enabling two innovative Finnish companies to change the way they sell their products.


MMS isn't just about sending images to your friends. Two Finnish companies have shown businesses how to take advantage of MMS, and proved that MMS can cut costs, improve service and provide competitive advantage.

Huoneistokeskus


Huoneistokeskus is a real estate company. It has developed an application with Finnish operator, Radiolinja, to offer MMS to its customers. The service works by providing a unique code next to each home that is advertised. Users can SMS the code to be sent a picture of the house plus often a layout by MMS. The MMS message also contains additional text information including contact details of the appropriate Huoneistokeskus representative. The service is also used to alert buyers as properties become available, with not just a text message but a picture of the property. Since its introduction at the end of November, Huoneistokeskus has sent out 'thousands' of MMS messages.

Kati Korhonen, Product Manager at Radiolinja Mobile Portal Solutions, believes that this could start to change the whole way that real estate is sold. At the moment, the Sunday newspaper is been a major sales channel but MMS will now bring an extension to the traditional advertising, making it more visual for the customers.

Nettiauto


A similar initiative was announced in February between Mach1 and Finweb Wireless Solutions. Mach1 own the Finnish car sales website Nettiauto. They approached Finweb Wireless Solutions about using MMS to improve their solution. The service works by a user, on the Internet, entering search criteria on their ideal car. When the vehicle becomes available, an MMS is sent to the user with a picture of the car and additional information. The service is currently only available for Sonera users and each message costs 0.84.

Pasi Pauanne, CTO at Finweb Wireless Solutions, believes that there is a three stage evolution to the service.

First, testing the service and understanding the customer experience. This is particularly important given the immature nature of MMS services. Early experience has been that simplicity is key. Finweb Wireless Solutions has worked to ensure that all MMS handsets can use the service.

Second, enhance the service to allow non-registered Nettiauto customers to send an SMS and receive an MMS with a picture of the car.

Third, further develop the functionality and options within the service.

Real Benefits


It is easy to dismiss such services as 'gimmicky' or for a very small number of users. This is not how the two companies perceive the market. They see it as an important development of their business model. Nettiauto believe that they can quickly reach 10% of their customer base using MMS.

They also see the clear business benefits.

For Huoneistokeskus, their salespeople have carried both digital cameras and mobile phones with them. They are now looking to replace these with integrated MMS phones, and send pictures of houses as they are taken. This can provide significant cost savings for the real estate company.

For Nettiauto, they hope to be able to send the MMS solution, together with Finweb Wireless Solutions, to other car sales companies.

For both companies, they see clear competitive advantages and reduced operating costs.

Multi-channel Solution


Both companies see the MMS offering as closely integrated with their Internet operations.

The Huoneistokeskus website attracts 'several tens of thousands of unique visitors every week'. They have developed intelligent agents on the website which can search their database to fund houses which meet users' criteria. These can then be sent, using a MMS message, to users.

On the Nettiauto MMS message is a URL which contains more detailed and personalized information on the car.

Overcoming Obstacles


Both companies see the availability of MMS handsets as the main barrier. But both are positive that this issue will soon be overcome, especially in a more advanced mobile country such as Finland.

Pauanne believes that it is not just a question of the availability of MMS handsets but much improved terminals. He believes that picture quality is still an issue on some handsets, but that new terminals such as the Nokia 3650 will provide much higher quality.

Linked to this, is the ease of use and awareness of consumers. MMS settings on handsets can be complex, even for savvy mobile users. Tariffing can also be confusing for users. Specifically for services such as Nettiauto, users may be concerned that they could be over charged for the service. For example, if they were sent multiple MMS messages or details of unsuitable vehicles. All of these issues need to be carefully monitored and overcome by operators and content providers.

Another challenge is operator inter-operability. At the moment, the Nettiauto service only works on the Sonera network, and the Huoneistokeskus service on Radiolinja. Nettiauto hope to be able to offer inter-operability in the next 2-3 months, while Huoneistokeskus and Radiolinja are also working to solve this issue.

A further challenge is user awareness and satisfaction. Both companies are working hard to work on improving this. They will be helped by some of the pan-European campaigns to promote MMS, which come after a very strong campaign at Christmas.

Future Opportunities


Real estate and cars are not unique markets, and a number of other areas are immediately obvious as key opportunities for MMS. Yes, the adult entertainment area will be a key one, but there are also such areas as surveillance, dating services and financial services.

An interesting opportunity will be the auction area, as the immediacy and personalization of mobile works well. Images of different auction items can be sent to users as they become available.

Mobile streaming will offer a whole host of new applications such as a short video clip of the car being sold. This could include a '360 degree view' of the car. This does not need to wait for 3G services. For example, Hungarian operator Westel has just started providing wireless video services to its GPRS subscribers.

Mobile operators are very keen to show MMS can work, but companies like Nettiauto and Huoneistokeskus can clearly see the benefits. They have found value from their Internet services and see mobile and MMS as a natural complement. As demonstrated in these two examples, the business case can be compelling.

Steve Wallage works and writes for the451. Steve has more than 13 years of experience as a technology analyst specializing in telecommunications.