May 2, 2008, 12:00 AM

Amazon.com pushes the m-commerce envelope with text messages

Amazon.com has launched Amazon TextBuyIt, a new way of mobile shopping that bypasses its mobile web site, providing consumers an entirely different path to merchandise when away from a computer.

E-commerce without transacting personal or financial information, without the Internet, even without a computer. Impossible? Not anymore.

Amazon.com is pushing the m-commerce envelope with the launch of Amazon TextBuyIt, a new way of mobile shopping that bypasses its mobile web site, providing consumers an entirely different path to merchandise when away from a computer.

Amazon.com customers who have set up accounts with default shipping and financial information via the e-commerce site can find a product they are looking for and complete a purchase using TextBuyIt. A customer sends a text message to the telecommunications short code “AMAZON” (262966) with the name of a product, search term, UPC bar code number, or ISBN code for books, and within seconds Amazon.com replies with products that match the search, along with prices.

To buy an item, a customer replies to the text message by entering only the single-digit number next to an item. The customer then receives a brief phone call from Amazon.com with the final details of the order, then confirms or cancels the purchase.

When a customer purchases something for the first time using TextBuyIt, Amazon will ask for an e-mail address and the shipping ZIP code on the Amazon.com account. With this information, Amazon.com uses the customer’s default settings for payment method, shipping address and shipping speed to complete the first purchase and future purchases from the same phone.

“It’s great that you do not have to transact personal or financial information using the phone. That breaks down a common online barrier,” says Vidya Drego, senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

Challenge to retailers

In the realm of m-commerce, the most significant thing about this new offering is that it does not require consumers to have Internet access on their mobile phones.

Use of text messaging is far more common than use of the mobile web. This year 46 million U.S. mobile phone users, or 19%, will access the Internet from their phones, while 166 million, or 69%, will send text messages, JupiterResearch projects. Thus, adding the text message component to its m-commerce offerings means Amazon.com has vastly increased the number of consumers who can access its merchandise via mobile phones.

“This is fantastic for a user interface because text messaging is so commonly used,” Drego says. “Text messaging is way up there; the mobile web, not so much yet.”

As a result, TextBuyIt could potentially affect bricks-and-mortar retailers, m-commerce experts say.

“This is huge,” says Nikki Baird, managing partner at Retail Systems Research LLC. “Retailers better get on making product information available on consumers’ phones right away; otherwise, consumers will be getting that information from Amazon-and buying products from Amazon while standing at the other retailers’ shelves in stores.”

The text message format is an important stepping stone to mobile web sites, she adds. “There eventually will be a much richer experience available on mobile web sites,” Baird says. “But if retailers wait for that before creating a mobile presence, they will be hopelessly behind.”

bill@verticalwebmedia.com

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