How Far Away

By Evan Schuman  |  Posted 2006-03-23 Print this article Print

Is True Mobile E-Commerce?"> When will mobile e-commerce be the norm, with a healthy percentage of purchases being done on a mobile device? Thats hard to say, said Googles Nishar, and it will be very different in parts of Asia (which are furthest ahead in the mobile acceptance scale), Europe (middle) and the United States (which is far behind). In the United States, "it could be in two years, it could be 10 years," Nishar said. But thats for it being the norm, with mobile purchase experimentation already showing up.
"People are already starting to do transactions" on mobile devices, Googles Nishar said, so its critical that retailers start "making sure that they are not just building for the PC Web, but they focus on the mobile Web, too."
Those changes include GUI issues (format assumptions that can include much smaller screens), bandwidth restrictions (less information overall, but a heavy reliance on text for what is needed) and, most critically, the selection of information to be displayed. That last element requires companies to think through the kinds of datapoints that will be helpful to people when they are using mobile devices. "When a user is on the go, what is the information they care about? They are most likely not going to want images from three different directions," Nishar said. "Theyll want very quick and easy checkout, autofill and a whole host of other things." That mobile hybrid, according to Nishar, will likely be a telephone, so allowing a user to conduct some of the transaction automatically on the phone is sometimes the most efficient way. A computer—especially one with the keyboard and screen as small as todays typical mobile devices—may not always be that efficient, he said. Nishar argues that consumers and businesspeople are not likely to ever think of PDAs (or PDA/phone hybrids) the same way they think of laptops or desktops. "I dont see them changing that behavior any time soon. Realistically, when people get their phones in their pockets, they dont think of it as a computer," he said. "In the Asian market, where many people dont have computers, they still just view that phone as a mechanism that is valuable and can get them information quickly." Nishar draws a psychological distinction between browsing and looking, where "looking" is a more finite attempt to get a specific answer to a particular question or problem. Its more informational than recreational. "They might use it to figure out the latest crop prices. Thats not like browsing for movie reviews," he said. This isnt to say that entertainment information isnt important, as Nishar is quick to add that, "in general, entertainment is by far one of the top categories of what people look for on their phones. But people are not browsing on their phones. They are up and about and they need to find a local restaurant." Again, he points to a sharp difference in how mobile content will be formed in Asia versus Europe and versus the United States, something global retailers must understand. "We have to look at the context. In the Western world, the consumer is much likely a lot closer to a bigger machine," he said. "If you look at a country like Japan, anywhere from 20 to 25 percent of all Internet usage is now happening on mobile phones." He cites the mobile Web site of United Airlines as a good example of where retailers should be headed. "Its very functional," Nishar said. One of the most ballyhooed applications for mobile commerce—as a opposed to mobile e-commerce—has been to use the phones location-awareness to drive sales, such as telling the consumer that theres a sale going on at a merchant 200 feet from where he is standing and the sale will end in 30 minutes. With rare exceptions, those applications have simply not happened in the United States. There are two reasons for that, Nishar said, even though the capabilities have been touted since the late 1990s. Initially, the delay was from the cell phone carriers who "hadnt figured it out," he said, given the complicated technology issues. "But today, they have figured it out. The technology has been there for the last two or three years," Nishar said, adding that the second delay has been "a whole host of issues involving privacy." The fear among carriers was that consumers would be frightened of technology that would take their exact locations and share it with various merchants and their employees. Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.

Evan Schuman is the editor of's Retail industry center. He has covered retail technology issues since 1988 for Ziff-Davis, CMP Media, IDG, Penton, Lebhar-Friedman, VNU, BusinessWeek, Business 2.0 and United Press International, among others. He can be reached by e-mail at

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