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The "Year of Mobile" may forever be on the horizon, but a new survey by Harris Interactive says that consumers are getting more comfortable making purchases through their cell phones. The question of course, is what they're willing to buy.

The study, commissioned by mobile credit card security firm Billing Revolution, found that 1,883 of those surveyed were cellphone owners (93 percent). Almost half (45 percent) said they think shopping via mobile phones is “somewhat safe,” though just over a quarter (26 percent) feel that mobile shopping is completely safe.

Younger people are of course more comfortable giving away their financial information on their phones. 59 percent of those 18-34 found mobile shopping somewhat safe, versus 34 percent of adults over 55. Also, 50 percent of men find the concept of shopping via cellphone somewhat safe versus 39 percent of women.

"There’s clearly a large U.S. population of consumers open to the idea of making purchases via their cell phones,” said Andy Kleitsch, CEO of Billing Revolution. “With consumers getting more comfortable navigating the Web from mobile phones, mobile commerce is poised for explosive growth, and consumers are very much leading the charge in this direction.”

So far, it remains to be seen what people are willing to purchase. Ringtones, games and songs are easy to see, but are consumers willing to risk purchasing big ticket items on their mobile devices?

That is less obvious. Maya Mikhailov, VP of mobile product search company Slifter, says that it doesn't make life easier to purchase everything through the phone. Slifter specializes in produce and other items sold locally: "for many items, consumers are still going to want to touch and feel things in stores." Mikhailov thinks that the future of mobile shopping is going to be a hybrid approach, "giving consumers the chance to purchase however they want. "

And while companies like Fandango are helping make the process of purchasing tickets on the go easier, purchasing larger items like electronics and cars won't make sense on phones, especially if those products have the same shipping delay as things purchased online.

As iPhone comparison applications like Amazon Remembers, Save Benjis, and Frucall are learning, consumers often forgo price performance and time saving options for in person impulse purchases.

"What we’ve seen is that most people continue to buy in the retail space," says Cortis Clark, President of Sol Robots, developer of Save Benjis. "If they’re at the retail store, it’s currently inconvenient to buy from the phone. People are using it mostly for piece of mind."

But confidence in mobile shopping is the first step to overcoming that. Consumers were once afraid of sending their credit card information over the Internet. And we all know how that turned out.

Meghan Keane

Published 28 May, 2009 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

721 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

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Simon Perry, Xibis

Interflora have had great success with the mobile e-commerce site we built for them a few months back.  Although I think Interflora's business is particularly well suited to mobile e-commerce, better mobile browsers such as the iPhone are going to make this far more popular.

If a payment mechanism can be integrated into the phones then it would resolve the problem of having to stand on the train holding a credit card in one hand, a mobile in the other and trying to type.

One finally note: I fail to understand why we haven't been paying at the supermarket with our mobiles for years.  The chip & PIN mechanism brought in to combat fraud is fundamentally unsecure because in order to make a purchase, you need to hand over all the information required to make ANY purchase.  If we were to build our web systems with this level of security we'd be a laughing stock.

With the processing power of a mobile phone using public-private key cryptography, all the technology is there to ensure you only need to give the retailer enough information to make that one purchase.  In fact, you could paint the transaction info on the side of a bus with no risk whatsoever.  We could make purchases online without even bothering with SSL.

almost 7 years ago

Bdr London

Bdr London, Internet Advertising Agency at BDR London

Wouldn't it be amazing if you were in a real hurry, to order and pay for your goods on the way to the shops and then just go in and pick it up! I think one day this could be reality, particularly as the quality of handsets continue to imporve. Actually making payment via your mobile will increase as people's confidence improves, just like it did in eRetail. The possibilities with mobile marketing haven't really even begun.

almost 7 years ago

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