February 16, 2012, 9:45 AM

Are the biggest e-retailers mobile-friendly?

A new study shines a mobile light on the top 100.

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68% of the leading e-retailers have developed smartphone apps and 59% have built mobile commerce sites, a new study finds. This lends credence to what the Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce Top 300 already proved: M-commerce is huge.

Zmags, which builds rich media tablet catalog apps, commissioned research and consulting firm HawksPartners to assess the smartphone and tablet capabilities of the top 100 merchants in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide. Their findings in their study entitled “Mobile and Tablet e-Commerce: Is Anyone Really Ready?” are most intriguing.

The study says m-commerce sites typically have very little dynamic content and focus mainly on search and category navigation, and that while most mobile sites allow ease of small-screen purchasing, this often comes at the expense of a more engaging overall shopping experience.

Around one-third of retailers have optimized their sites for browsing and buying on tablets, the study finds. Rather than investing in separate iPad sites (or iPad apps), most of the top 100 e-retailers simply use their existing e-commerce sites. This, Zmags and HawksPartners contend, translates into “a clunky and often frustrating shopping experience for consumers.” The companies add that the tablet browsing experience is often marred by technical glitches, such as slow page load times, unavailable content and Flash-related issues (Apple Inc. devices do not run Flash).

Study findings on purchasing functionality grabbed my attention. While over two-thirds of the retailers have iPhone apps, only half offer the ability to purchase via the app, the study finds. Slightly more than one-third of the retailers offer the ability to purchase on Android apps. And while about 40% of the top 100 e-retailers have iPad apps, 25% of those apps don’t include purchasing capability.

But that’s not entirely cause for alarm. Mobile commerce doesn’t always have to be about making purchases on the mobile device. Mobile technology can be used to lend an assist to in-store buying. And iPad apps make for great catalogs, through which shoppers can click through to an e-commerce site outside of the app. There are many uses for mobile technology in retail.

The top 100 e-retailers have made a tremendous amount of progress in mobile commerce in a short period of time. If you’re just getting started in m-commerce or are not yet there, take a look at the m-commerce offerings of the top 100 e-retailers and see what you like, and what you don't like. These leaders can serve as guideposts in the hottest game in town.

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