By  on March 22, 2010

While retailers say mobile commerce is hardly a blip on the radar screen as of now, they expect it to grow significantly this year and next as the number of people who own smart phones increases. Digital commerce, like marketing, is expanding beyond Web stores onto new platforms and sites.

“It is difficult to predict a number, but mobile commerce transactions will increase like never before within the next 12 to 36 months,” predicted Aberdeen Group analyst Sahir Anand.

The smart phone market is growing quickly. In the fourth quarter of 2009, the number of smart phones in use increased 40 percent compared with the same time the previous year, said International Data Corp. Vendors shipped a total of 174.2 million smart phones in 2009. Smart phones made up 15.4 percent of all mobile phones shipped in 2009, an increase from 12.7 percent in 2008, IDC said.

At Gilt Groupe, where shoppers have to act quickly as soon as a sale goes up even when they aren’t at their desks, mobile commerce from its iPhone application accounts for 7 percent of sales on the weekend and 5 percent of sales during the week, said Gilt chief executive officer Susan Lyne.

Online streetwear retailer Moxsie recently ran a series of online ads on sites such as Refinery29 in which a pair of sneakers from Generic Surplus could be purchased directly, without leaving the ad or going to Moxsie’s site.

Diane von Furstenberg plans to launch an iPhone app this month, and is in the process of developing a mobile version of its site. So far, traffic from mobile devices is low but a few customers have managed to purchase through their phones even though the mobile site is not yet ready, said DVF’s vice president of e-commerce and online advertising Ronit Weinberg. She said she expects to see more mobile commerce in the future.

“I don’t know if it’s 2010, but I definitely feel it’s 2011,” she said.

Avon’s younger Mark brand is creating a mobile phone application for its representatives, so they can complete a transaction in any location. Like 1-800-Flowers, they are already selling directly from Facebook pages.

“What we’re trying to do is really blur the lines between socializing, between sharing, buying, selling, direct selling — which is not the sexiest business — as well as retail and all the while engaging [consumers],” said Mark director of e-commerce and digital and strategic alliances Annemarie Frank.

Right now the priority among retailers is making sure anything anyone can do on a laptop can be done on a phone, said Nick Taylor, vice president of business development for Usablenet, which creates mobile sites for retailers such as Victoria’s Secret. Retailers are adapting their sites for the mobile Web and creating a variety of applications. Some develop one iPhone app, whereas others, such as Sears and Ralph Lauren, create a variety for different purposes and different product lines. “There are different schools of thought,” Taylor said. “Most of our retail clients are still focused on iPhone apps but we feel the other platforms, particularly Android apps, are right behind,” he said.

The next frontier for mobile is gift card and loyalty programs that can be used in the store, online or when talking to a call center, such as the one Starbucks created for customers, according to Anand.

“This will drive the consumer stickiness that is needed today,” he said. Also coming soon is in-store shopping location guidance and relevant offers, such as the mobile application with a store map, shopping list and targeted discounts IBM and Cisco demonstrated at the National Retail Federation conference in January. Meanwhile, shoppers are purchasing on their mobile phones while they are in stores, and retailers are already creating special offers for users of the rapidly emerging location-based social networking communities and games such as Foursquare and Gowalla.

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