June 25, 2010, 12:47 PM

Shoppers reach out to Santa this year with mobile phones

Mobile commerce is set to make big gains this holiday season.

If you needed more proof about the rise of mobile commerce, consider this: Usablenet Inc., which sells mobile technology, is working with at least 20 retailers that want to launch mobile sites by Black Friday, the frenzied shopping day after Thanksgiving. Nick Taylor, the firm’s president, says up to 10 more projects soon could be in the pipeline.

That means Usablenet could double its mobile site work from last year, when the company helped launched 12 mobile sites in time for the holiday shopping season.

Need more evidence that Santa this year will be easier to reach through web-enabled mobile devices? Digby, another mobile technology vendor, won’t say how many mobile site and app projects it is working on, but a company spokesman says the figure is a significant uptick from this time last year.

“We are hearing more and more that retailers are looking at mobile as a strategic cross-channel effort and are focused on enabling mobile web and rich downloadable applications for the iPhone, Blackberry and Android platforms,” the spokesman says.

The growth in the number of mobile commerce projects shows that getting ready for the holidays increasingly means that online retailers will have to consider this channel, lest they lose their hold on consumers with a shop now, shop anywhere mindset. But that doesn’t mean online retailers this holiday season should lose sight of the basics, either, as Lauren Freedman reminded me this week.

Freedman is president of the E-tailing Group, which regularly publishes research that shows where online retailers shine in pleasing consumers, and where they fall short. She offers this enduring advice for online retailers gearing up for the holidays: Have products in stock and make sure consumers don’t have to wait while your site loads. If a retailer fails at those tasks, it is hard to see how a fancy mobile site or mobile app will reassure consumers.

Similar advice comes from PayPal, the payment processing service owned by eBay Inc., and which last year recorded a 140% spike in mobile payments on Black Friday compared with a typical Friday.

“While the influx of online traffic during the holiday season is a great problem to have, the increased demand from last minute customers may make order fulfillment a hectic and stressful process,” says Eddie Davis, PayPal's senior director of SMB Merchant Services. “Try to incentivize your customers to shop early by offering deals like free shipping in advance of the holiday shopping crunch so you can spread out demand.”

So, yeah, get started on that mobile commerce strategy, and do it yesterday. But don’t lose sight of the grunt work, either, or you may just create some grumpy shoppers who might want to put coal in your stocking.

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