June 16, 2010, 10:31 AM

Retailers must do their homework before going mobile

The first step is figuring out what devices shoppers are using.

Lead Photo

Julie Ask, Forrester Research Inc. analyst

Online retailers need to figure out what mobile devices their customers are using, and then decide how many of those customers they can reach via mobile sites and apps, before undertaking the technical work involved in a mobile commerce program, Julie Ask, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc., told attendees Friday at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition.

Too often, retailers embark upon the work of creating new mobile sales channels before doing the necessary homework, Ask said during a session entitled "An overview of the mobile commerce market." For instance, a retailer might be moved to create an iPhone app simply because iPhones are popular. That often can lead to apps that fail to win longstanding consumer loyalty, she said.

"Many of our clients have the wrong starting point for their mobile strategy," she said.

That's not to say online retailers should drag their feet in trying to reach consumers who want to research or buy products with mobile devices. Consumers are spending real money through the mobile channel, Ask pointed out. She noted that eBay Inc. sold $600 million worth of goods in 2009 via the mobile channel and predicts that mobile sales will hit $1.5 billion in 2010.

Ask said that mobile isn't only for direct sales because consumers more often use mobile devices to research products or to find a nearby store than to initiate direct transactions. And as for the decision faced by retailers about whether to invest in a mobile web site or mobile apps geared to particular phones, Ask said apps generally work best for frequent use by consumers who want relatively complex services on their mobile phones.

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