June 9, 2009, 12:00 AM

M-commerce is catching on: 5% of the top 500 e-retailers offer mobile sites

5% of the largest e-retailers offer m-commerce sites or iPhone-optimized sites, finds e-commerce and m-commerce research and consulting firm Acquity Group. And mobile retailing is poised for massive growth, Acquity predicts.

Mobile commerce, what some retailers call the fourth sales channel, is catching on. Today, 5% of the largest e-retailers offer m-commerce sites or iPhone-optimized m-commerce sites, according to new research from e-commerce and m-commerce consulting firm Acquity Group LLC.

“Within five years that figure will approach 50%,” predicts Adam Boysen, project manager at Acquity Group. “The trends all are pointing in that direction-people are increasingly on the move, smartphone sales are soaring, awareness of mobile web browsing is growing greatly. We’re primed for big growth in mobile retailing.”

Acquity Group studied this spring the top 500 e-retailers listed in the 2008 edition of the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. The study shows that 4% of the e-retailers today offer mobile commerce sites and 1% boast iPhone-optimized sites. (Some retailers with iPhone sites also had standard m-commerce sites, while some had only iPhone-optimized sites.)

The breakdown of e-retailers offering m-commerce sites by category provides a snapshot of which types of e-retailers are pioneering the field. According to Acquity Group, the clear leader is mass merchant: 15% of IR Top 500 mass merchant e-retailers offer m-commerce sites.

“Large department stores and mass merchants have the capital to invest in m-commerce,” Boysen says. “Now it’s become follow the leader-once one opens up shop, it generates buzz and interest, and the competitors’ executives start asking why they don’t have an m-commerce site, too. And now leaders in other categories are starting to follow in the footsteps of the department stores and mass merchants.”

Apparel/accessories, books/music/video and flowers/gifts tie for second, with 7% of the e-retailers in each category offering mobile sites; computers/electronics weighs in with 5%; and specialty/non-apparel with 2%, Acquity Group research shows. For e-retailers offering iPhone-optimized m-commerce sites, mass merchant again has the lead: 7% of the top 500 e-retailers in this category offer iPhone sites, Acquity Group finds. Apparel/accessories comes in second with 3%, followed by books/music/video and computers/electronics, both with 2%.

And there are more m-commerce sites and iPhone-optimized sites to come in the near future. M-commerce site builders and consultants Acquity Group, Digby, CardinalCommerce and Usablenet Inc. all report mobile sites for new e-retailer customers in the pipeline.

Most m-commerce sites today, Acquity Group notes, offer rudimentary web site functionality that mirrors the look and feel of their corresponding e-commerce sites. However, some sites are pushing the mobile user experience envelope.

“For obvious bandwidth issues, most m-commerce sites are not heavily using anything that requires a significant download. It’s a simple interface,” Boysen says. “Generally, they’re providing navigation by category so customers then can drill down in as few clicks as possible. Nike and Ralph Lauren, though, handle things a little different. They use four or five images that customers can click on to guide them to products. The images are, in effect, category headers that allow customers to drill down like they would with text headers, but in a more visually interesting way.”

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