Mobile Commerce Advantages for Retailers Emerging

Using mobile devices to shop is starting to catch on but has some hurdles to clear before it gains broad acceptance with U.S. consumers, according to a new report.

Using mobile devices to access the Internet is fast-becoming a way of life in the U.S. More than 80 million U.S. mobile phone owners will access the Internet via their handset this year, according to research firm eMarketer.

That's almost 35 percent of all mobile phone users and almost 27 percent of the U.S. population. But online shopping on mobile devices is not necessarily following the same fast track growth curve.

According to the eMarketer's report, "Mobile Commerce: Ahead of Its Time," mobile phone users say they would make more purchases if the process were not so cumbersome, products were easier to find and their devices supported secure credit card transactions. Web-enabled mobile phone users are much more likely to use their devices to get weather forecasts, read news, find movie times and bank online than to buy products, according to eMarketer.

"We're at an early stage, but the market for mobile e-commerce is definitely accelerating," Jeffrey Grau, senior analyst at eMarketer and author of the report, told InternetNews.com.

Grau said mobile e-commerce is going through a similar stage of guarded acceptance among U.S. consumers that e-commerce on the broader Web did a decade or so ago. "People were concerned about credit card security back then, even more so than today, so that was a big barrier to overcome. On mobile there's that security concern, but also other issues, like the screens are so small you're not necessarily comfortable buying household goods or higher end items you can't see that well."

He notes that the advent of Apple's iPad, due out next month, and other tablet devices, will give e-tailors more screen real estate to display their wares.

For now, smartphones are best-suited for time-sensitive and location-oriented transactions, like ordering a pizza or making dinner or event reservations from your car. "Where you're buying a service or some relative commodity like pizza or flowers you don't have to see in a larger screen, these are good areas for mobile ecommerce," said Grau.

He also notes mobile technology is helping to facilitate these kinds of purchases. For example, a GPS in the mobile device helps the user find the nearest theater or store and provide other location-based services. Even when you're in a physical store, Web access on the mobile device offers plenty of price comparison and review options to help you make a purchase decision.

Grau said a lot of retailers made the mistake of trying to optimize their standard Web site for mobile. "They try to optimize, but a lot of those sites end up looking pretty crude and hard to use on a mobile screen," said Grau. "With a mobile application, like we've seen on the iPhone, you can really provide a much richer experience."

eMarketer is forecasting that by 2013, almost 50 percent of mobile phone subscribers in the U.S. will have Internet access.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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