October 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

Mobile commerce: The long wait is over

With more than 150 m-commerce sites and apps, mobile commerce is rapidly shifting “from experiment to reality.”

The idea that consumers would one day shop online using handheld wireless devices is hardly new. It has long captured the imagination of thousands of e-retailing pioneers who dreamed of opening up a major new path to growth. The technology was no figment of the imagination; IBM introduced Simon, the world’s first smartphone, at Comdex in 1992.

Internet Retailer has followed the gradual development of mobile commerce for nearly a decade, devoting three cover stories to the topic over the years. The first was nine years ago this month, when our November 2000 cover story asked “Where’s Wireless?” The story reported on a number of mobile commerce initiatives, both in the U.S. and Europe. But, while it revealed a vast potential for mobile phones in e-commerce, the article concluded that widespread application of mobile commerce was quite some time in the future. The problem: There were not nearly enough web-based phones on the market to justify a significant investment in m-commerce development. Shopping online from cell phones was put on hold.

That changed in June 2007 when Apple introduced its game-changing iPhone-incredibly sleek in design, pre-loaded with useful web applications and equipped with a touch screen that spanned the entire face of the phone. It was the near perfect platform from which to launch a serious effort to develop mobile commerce and in the first six months on the market Apple sold 4 million of the new phones.

That was just what our editorial team needed to take another serious look at mobile commerce, which resulted in a second cover story entitled “E-Commerce on the Move,” published in the March 2008 issue of this magazine. That story concluded that with the number of web-based phones coming on the market mobile commerce was finally getting traction.

Just a year and a half later, we come back with our third cover story on mobile commerce and in his article, beginning on page 16, senior editor Bill Siwicki concludes that mobile commerce is rapidly shifting “from experiment to reality.” Indeed, he reports that there are now more than 150 m-commerce sites and apps. EBay is already attracting 5.4 million unique mobile shoppers each month and Amazon is getting 3.5 million.

There’s little mystery why mobile commerce is suddenly lifting off its launching pad. Once a novelty, web-based smartphones are the fastest-growing segment of the mobile phone business. In the first half of this year, according to Gartner, global sales of mobile phones declined 6% to 286 million units, while sales of smartphones grew 27% during the same period to 40 million units. For online shoppers, this is a variant of the Field of Dreams axiom: Build smartphones and they will come to mobile commerce sites.

Our trilogy of m-commerce cover stories is evidence of Internet Retailer’s commitment to reporting on the impact that the very latest developments in technology are having on e-retailing. Our goal is to report on these developments long before their impact is felt, and to stay with them as that impact appears. We are really only beginning our coverage of mobile commerce. Soon we will launch our first M-Commerce Conference to be held next October in Chicago, when I’m quite sure our readers will be treated to our fourth cover story on the mobile commerce phenomenon.


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