February 21, 2008, 12:00 AM

Comparing prices a top shopping use for mobile phones, survey says

Gartner Inc. finds that comparing prices was one of the top two shopping-related activities for which consumers used web-enabled mobile phones, in U.S. and the U.K.

A new venue is taking its place alongside online comparison shopping engines as a place where consumers price shop at different retailers before they buy: mobile phones. A new report from research and advisory firm Gartner Inc. finds that checking item prices was one of the top two shopping-related activities for which consumers used web-enabled mobile phones, in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

In the survey of more than 2,000 consumers in the U.S. and the U.K., checking prices ranked second after checking store locations and above other activities such as checking delivery status via mobile phone, and receiving promotions and discounts. U.S. mobile users, according to the survey report, were twice as likely to use the phone to check price as to buy (24% compared to 12%.) U.K. mobile users posted similar responses, which 18% saying they’d use their mobile device to price check and only 11% saying they would use it to buy.

Gartner’s report, “M-Commerce Retail Consumer Shopping Preferences,” provided examples of portals that are facilitating mobile-based price checking, comparison shopping engines designed to accommodate mobile users, and retailers using mobile to push out price information to consumers.

For example, Yahoo Shopping and ShopWiki are available in dedicated mobile phone versions as well as their original online versions. Frucall, a comparison shopping site developed specifically for mobile users, allows consumers to either search the site for prices using their mobile phone, or text a UPC (Universal Product Code) number or product name to the site, which searches shopping sites online and then texts back the best price to the mobile user.

NearbyNow, an online service, makes entire mall inventories and prices available by mobile phone through text messages, and retailer Meijer sends text message alerts to customers who opt in to receive them just before it raises its gasoline prices.

Hung LeHong, report author and research vice president at Gartner, advises retailers to ensure they are “aware of the options that exist in working with portals, mobile map providers and comparison engines.”

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