December 26, 2000, 9:55 AM

To buy, press pound

E-merchants are extending e-commerce to wireless personal digital assistants and Web-enabled cell phones, a market projected to have a billion units in circulation by 2004. The immediate payoff for e-retailers is a higher level of convenience and service. “Enhancing customer loyalty is key for merchants in the mobile commerce play,” says Joe Lazlo, an analyst for Jupiter Communications. “Mobile commerce extends the relationship beyond the PC.”

E-retailers deploying wireless technology include Amazon.com and FTD.com. Last February, Amazon introduced a URL for mobile phones that connects users to the site without a portal. Amazon.com has a URL specifically for wireless devices that consumers can bookmark. The firm has struck deals for wireless access to its Web site with Sprint PCS, Bell Atlantic and Nextel. Prior to that, Amazon began piloting the URL last December with Sprint PCS. Sales were so encouraging that Amazon began to work with other cellular carriers to expand the service, forming partnerships Motorola and Nokia. The site also has opened, Amazon.com Anywhere, dedicated to developing wireless access to its site. “We see it as a real benefit for customers to have a choice of the device and they use to access our site,” says Chuck Napier, product manager for Amazon.com Anywhere and a wireless industry veteran.

At first, consumers likely will use Web-enabled wireless devices to gather product information to speed purchasing via PC, since today’s PDAs and cell phone screens display tiny amounts of data. Analysts expect new wireless devices that better facilitate mobile commerce to appear in about 18 months. “None of the existing technology is enough to push sales,” says Barry Parr, director of consumer e-commerce at IDC. “At least one generation of the technology will pass before consumers embrace it.”

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