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Mobile phones ring the changes for retail

David Smith

The decision by US technology giant Apple to delay the launch of the iPad in Europe as it tries to cope with demand in its home market is further evidence of the growing potential of the mobile device. For what happens across the Pond is usually replicated here. The iPad stock shortages are a bellwether of what’s to come.

Admittedly, it may be some time until consumers regularly use their mobile devices to complete high-ticket purchases. But there’s growing evidence that they are using their mobiles as part of the research process.

Data from the British Population Survey, which talks to 7,000 consumers each month, demonstrates the increased appetite to go online on handhelds. In the past two years, the number of people using their mobile to access the internet has more than trebled to 13%. Other research suggests consumers are using handsets for product searches, price comparisons and stock availability.

It begs the question of whether retailers are meeting demand.

One major fashion retailer I talked to recently believes high-speed networks, cheaper tariffs and user-friendly smartphones are all removing barriers to m-commerce. Retailers need to think about having a mobile-specific version of their website, being able to recognise and divert mobile users, and how their mobile interface is supported. Initially, m-commerce is likely to embrace basic functions such as ‘click to call’, store locators and product search. Marketing also has potential, although order capture and payment may still be some way off.

A US retailer we know of regularly sees 70% opt-in for SMS vouchers. And clothing is one of the top five merchandise categories bought via a mobile in the US.

If it’s true that retail’s prevailing wind blows in from the west, then the time to go mobile is upon us.

David Smith is managing director of etail trade body IMRG

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