May 13, 2010, 2:04 PM

Major U.K. retailer says hiya to mobile commerce

U.K.-based department store chain Marks & Spencer has launched an m-commerce site. The retailer says it’s the first mobile shopping site launched by a major U.K. high street retailer.

U.K.-based department store chain Marks & Spencer has launched an m-commerce site. The retailer says it’s the first mobile shopping site launched by a major U.K. high street retailer.

The site is available at m.marksandspencer.com, and a shopper who enters www.marksandspencer.com into a mobile Internet browser will automatically be directed to the site. The retailer says its m-commerce site will be connected to its traditional e-commerce site so that shoppers can transition from one to the other easily. For example, shoppers can log into their accounts from their mobile phones and view items they placed in their shopping baskets while on a PC. The site offers more than 24,000 products, Marks & Spencer says.  

“This is a major step forward in mobile retailing,” says Dave Hughes, director of M&S Direct. “M&S entering the market with 21 million customers, one of the U.K.’s most recognized brands and a well-known range of products changes the mobile retail landscape. Even before the site  launched, hundreds of thousands of customers are already shopping with us on their mobile phones, and market data is telling us that this will soon be millions. The new site allows these customers to browse and buy from their mobile device without the frustrations that come with trying to do the same on a traditional web site.”

Marks & Spencer engaged London-based agency Mobile Interactive Group to design the mobile site and m-commerce technology vendor Usablenet for back-end development. Usablenet has built m-commerce sites for such retailers as ShopNBC.com, Vitacost.com, Office Max and REI.  In some cases, Usablenet also does some of the design work for clients` mobile sites, a Usablenet spokesman says. Usablenet’s fees vary depending on the functionality and complexity of a mobile site—but the vendor typically charges an implementation fee and a recurring maintenance fee. 


Mark Beccue, a senior analyst for consumer mobility at ABI Research, says he has been expecting m-commerce to grow in developed global markets.


“Japan, as it seems with all things mobile, has been a leader in mobile commerce, but after them, the U.S. has been the focus point for m-commerce in terms of retailers with m-commerce sites,” he says. <p>
 That makes sense, he says, because the U.S. is the most competitive retail market and because it offers relatively cheap mobile data plans on high-speed networks. Additionally, he says U.S. consumers tend to have higher-end smartphones capable of presenting the mobile web to consumers. 

However, he says the technology is spreading. Western Europe and some parts of Asia, like Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, will be next, he predicts.

Julie Ask, vice president and principal analyst with Forrester Research Inc., says m-commerce, while growing in foreign markets, will take time to develop into a significant channel. It is still a very small portion of overall or even online sales for most retailers, she says.


“I have spoken to one or two clients—which I would call the exception—that are doing double-digit percentages of sales in any given market, such as Japan, through mobile,” Ask says.


But she adds that the growing trend of consumer brands investing in mobile sites and applications bodes well for steady growth.

More and more consumer brands are investing in mobile technology, such as the mobile web and apps, that make the mobile experience a good one, she says. Companies are promoting their mobile services and consumers are buying more.


In the US, Pizza Hut and Marriott Hotels both posted mobile sales in the millions within the first 100 days of launching mobile technology, Ask says. 

According to mobile marketing agency Incentivated, 48 million U.K. consumers use 76 million mobile phones and 50% of those phones are smartphones. The firm also reports that one in 10 web pages viewed in the U.K. are viewed on a mobile device.

Other research from search engine and web portal Yahoo Inc. suggests the number of adults using the mobile Internet in the U.K. will double in the next two years, with 50% of the U.K. adult population accessing the mobile web by 2012.


Marks & Spencer launched its e-commerce site in 2000 and says the site has attracted more than 4 million customers.


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