Sun, Sep 04, 2011 - Page 10 News List

Mobile shopping more buzz than buying thus far

By Ellen Gibson  /  AP, NEW YORK

A woman uses her mobile phone at a shopping mall in Beijing, China, on Sept. 1 last year.

Photo: AFP

When it comes to mobile shopping, so far there’s more buzz than buy.

As the number of people who use iPhones and other smartphones grows, companies selling everything from hardware to high fashion are touting all the new applications they are rolling out that enable shoppers to do anything from check a store’s inventory while in the dressing room to order prescriptions.

Retailers are betting that selling their wares on a device that people carry around all day can encourage people in the US to spend money during an economic downturn in which they are making fewer impulse buys in their bricks-and-mortar stores. However, so far, consumers are mostly using their phones to look up locations and compare prices, and stopping short of tapping the “buy” button. Why? In part because they find it hard to shop on the tiny screens and they don’t quite think it’s safe to input their credit card information into their phone.

To be sure, mobile purchases are growing faster than online sales, which are increasing by about 10 percent a year. However, mobile commerce is expected to account for US$6 billion, or just 2 percent of overall e-commerce sales this year, according to Forrester Research. By 2016, that figure could rise to US$31 billion — still a sliver of electronic sales.

“The transactions aren’t anywhere close to a big number,” says Siva Kumar, whose company, TheFind, offers mobile price-checking applications. “But the first stage of any revolution is that people start using the new tool.”

The use of smartphones is indeed growing. There are 82 million smartphones in circulation today in the US — one in every three people 13 and older owns one — and that figure is expected to double by 2015. Moreover, smartphone users are increasingly using mobile applications: The average user spends 81 minutes a day using mobile apps, more time than is spent Web browsing on a computer or other device, according to mobile analytics firm Flurry.

However, smartphone users are spending most of their time playing games, checking social networks, taking video, accessing maps and getting sports scores, according to digital research firm comScore. Shopping, meanwhile, ranks at No. 13, with less than 7 percent of mobile users accessing online retail stores through their phones.

Retailers are partly to blame for shoppers’ apathy. Less than a third of retailers polled by the National Retail Federation in May said they have a fully implemented mobile strategy, which might include an application available for download by iPhone, Android and BlackBerry users. It is far less pleasurable to hunt down a new pair of boots when it requires zooming in and out of a site that’s not oriented to the mobile screen, shoppers say.

For instance, Sara Margulis, who runs an online wedding gift registry in Sonoma County, California, uses her iPhone to buy books and diapers on Amazon, but sticks to her home computer for the majority of her electronic purchases in part because she likes the larger screen.

“If I know what I want and it’s on Amazon, I’ll do it on my phone,” she says. “But not if it requires a lot of research.”

Another big impediment is the payment process. Typing billing information into a phone can be tedious and time-consuming, and many shoppers are not convinced that mobile sites are safe. In one Forrester poll, 44 percent of shoppers said they would use the mobile Web to make purchases if the payment services were more secure.

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