IDG News Service - Having a mobile strategy is becoming essential for retailers, as more and more shoppers use Web-friendly smartphones in stores and malls to compare prices, seek deals, read reviews and make purchases.
Although still a nascent phenomenon, mobile commerce has grown rapidly in 2010 and its influence on the retail market is expected to increase exponentially in coming years, eventually becoming a core element of everyday shopping.
Retailers that are slow in optimizing their Web sites for mobile commerce and that fail to take advantage of the opportunities it offers will risk hurting their sales volume, damaging their brands and harming their relationship with customers.
"Mobile commerce is becoming mainstream," said Greg Girard , IDC's Retail Merchandise Strategies Program Director.
Among people with Internet-enabled mobile phones, about two-thirds will use the devices while shopping this holiday season for a variety of things, from finding store information to buying a product, according to a recent Yahoo survey.
For example, more than half of U.S. smartphone users will use them to compare prices, and 40% will call up product reviews, a recent Google study found.
People also use their phones to find coupons from sites like Groupon and score deals from stores that reward customers who do location-based "check-ins" through sites like Foursquare and Facebook.
Through their phones, people are also tapping their social connections for shopping input, snapping and sharing photos of products and joining online communities where shoppers congregate to share tips and recommendations.
Ultimately, mobile commerce bridges the gap between online and offline shopping, in theory marrying the best of both worlds. "Mobile commerce is disrupting the shopping process because it's bringing offline and online shopping closer together," Girard said.
This offers potential benefits both to shoppers and to merchants.
Shoppers now can make better informed decisions about purchases while they're out and about and be more aggressive about seeking deals, while merchants get a valuable and more holistic view of customers.
"We're going to start to see the mobile device as a sort of augmentation of the online experience," said Altimeter Group Consultant Susan Etlinger .
It's up to retailers to do their part by optimizing their online stores for mobile browsers and by developing mobile shopping applications.
Although mobile commerce is an emerging trend, user expectations are already sky high, according to Matt Poepsel, vice president of performance strategies at Compuware's Gomez division, which provides products and services for testing and optimizing Web application performance.
For example, shoppers expect mobile sites to load as quickly, if not faster, than sites on PC browsers. "Because mobile applications are somewhat streamlined [feature-wise], users expect speed in return," Poepsel said.
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