June 24, 2010, 10:57 AM

Chatting is only part of the mobile phone equation

More than just talk, consumers want to shop the web via mobile phones.

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U.S. consumers want more out of their cell phones than good conversation, a new study by the National Retail Federation and BIGresearch finds. Internet, e-mail, picture taking and calendars are also high on the mobile priority list.

The poll of 9,578 U.S. adults found 87.5% of respondents had a cell phone, up from 74.2% in 2006. But perhaps more newsworthy is the rising number of consumers who want to shop or browse companies’ web sites from their phones. The survey found 41.5% of adults want a cell phone with Internet access, compared to 32.6% in July 2008. Additionally, 51.4% of adults aged 18 to 34 say they want to be able to surf the web on their phone, up from 41.0% in July 2008.

"The combination of new technologies coupled with consumers' desire to adopt these new apps are redefining the cell phone into a consumer communicator," says Phil Rist, executive vice president of strategy, for BIGresearch. "Marketers and retailers should leverage shoppers’ needs to stay connected by providing information and communications to assist them with their purchase decisions."

In fact, many consumers already are accessing the web from their phones, Forrester Research Inc. reports. As 2008 drew to a close, more than 34 million U.S. mobile subscribers accessed the mobile Internet on their phones at least once a month, Forrester says. Mobile Internet users will continue to exhibit double-digit growth through 2014, when 106 million consumers, or a full 39% of all wireless subscribers, will be regular mobile web users, Forrester predicts.

"Americans expect more from their phones than the ability to talk to family and friends," says NRF president and CEO Matt Shay. "Aside from sending pictures and sharing stories and experiences over social networking sites, consumers want to be able to connect with their favorite retailers in a way they never have been able to before—instantaneously. The emergence of m-commerce has created a paradigm shift that has the retail industry very excited." 

When it comes to other cell phone features or attributes, adults also want to read e-mails on their mobile phones, the NRF study finds. 51.1% of those 18 to 34 want a cell phone with e-mail access, up from 28.1% in January 2006. And young adults aren't the only ones who want to read e-mail on the go: 42.6% of all adults want e-mail on their phones, up from 22.5% four years ago.

Survey respondents also said that phones with cameras (59.0%), calendars (42.7%) and text messaging (55.6%) are important attributes.

More e-retailers are entering the mobile realm. Today, 157 retailers engage in mobile commerce: there are 150 m-commerce sites, and 71 retailers offer mobile apps, with some merchants offering several, according to Internet Retailer research. EBay Inc. alone sold $600 million worth of goods in 2009 via the mobile channel, and Forrester Research Inc. analyst Julie Ask predicts that retail sales through mobile phones will hit $1.5 billion in 2010.

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