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E-Commerce Going Mobile

Mobile devices are quickly joining physical stores, Web sites and catalogs as an important retail channel as the rise of social networking and advanced mobile technologies redefines the online experience.

That’s the conclusion of a new e-commerce study conducted by Cisco Systems’ Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG).

“Mobile presents a revenue opportunity for retailers and opens up a new era of multichannel retail,” said Dick Cantwell, VP of IBSG’s retail/CPG practice. “Multichannel retailing has morphed into a web of shopper touch-points across stores, catalogs, mobile devices and the Internet. Retailers must start offering shoppers an ‘interconnected shop’ if they are to take advantage of the mobile opportunity.”

According to the study, shoppers will soon expect to use their mobile devices to find stores, research products, make purchases and manage their accounts. In anticipation of this market opportunity, retailers should evaluate strategies that allow customers to access retail product information anytime, from any device, IBSG says.

Cisco expects mobile commerce to follow an adoption pattern similar to that of cellphones. Early retail adopters are already finding ways to factor the mobile phone into multichannel service delivery. For the more basic mobile offering, retailers are using SMS (short message service) to communicate promotions, provide a two-way service for customers’ questions, and offer item availability and delivery updates.

The Cisco IBSG survey found that:

  • 42 percent of retailers provide the ability to view product information on a mobile device through reformatted Web pages or specific mobile pages;
  • 15 percent offer the ability to conduct transactions (make purchases, complete inventory queries, etc.);
  • 10 percent are using SMS to provide information or answers to customers’ questions; and
  • 6 percent have Web pages and a URL specifically designed for mobile use.

A number of mobile shopping start-ups are already helping retailers tap into the channel. These include Boulder, Colo.-based mShopper, which has built freestanding, fully functional mobile stores for over 110 merchants including Apple, Best Buy, J&R, Target and Wal-Mart, plus carriers Sprint and Verizon.

The three-year-old company has already amassed a database of more than 13 million products, and cites CE, music and movies, and computers and peripherals among its largest-volume categories.

Cisco cited Forrester Research estimates that online sales will reach $204 billion this year and $335 billion by 2012. E-commerce presently accounts for 6 percent of all retail sales in the United States.

There are currently three times as many cellphone subscribers (3.3 billion) as Internet users (1.3 billion) worldwide, Cisco said.