To date, the world of mobile retail has been confined largely to promotion and marketing. But that looks to be changing greatly in the coming years, with a move into outright sales and revenue production via mobile applications. Many developers feel the day is fast approaching when buyers will be able to simply aim a cell phone to pay for products. Applications for smartphones are growing at a rapid rate, with web developers scrambling to provide consumers with the ability to do anything from redeem coupons to compare prices, all on their mobile device.
"Retailers are at various stages with mobile," says Ellen Davis, VP of the National Retail Federation (NRF). "Most of them can understand and see the power of cell phones and smartphones with today's shoppers, but they are trying to figure out how to leverage it. Where to start seems to be the biggest hurdle."
As an example of the developing trend, this past holiday shopping season, Toys "R" Us rolled out an iPhone app that allowed shoppers to view the company's 80-page holiday "Wish Book" on their cell phones. The company also introduced mobile shopping in November, with buyers gaining the ability to check prices, ratings and availability. More and more, these kinds of practices and offerings are becoming the norm.
The overall total of smartphone users is expected to reach one billion by the year 2014. This would be a jump of 400 percent from the total in 2009. To keep up with all of them, the iPhone App Store, for instance, currently offers in excess of 25,000 apps-the majority of them free. In the first year of the online store's existence, users performed more than two billion downloads.
Insiders report that, at the moment, another obstacle to the growth of mobile retail is the hesitance of the consumer to transmit his or her personal information over the phone. This fear is similar to that experienced by consumers during the early years of Internet retail. In response to this concern, some mobile apps are now functioning as links to a specific retailer's online website, where the customer's info is already stored-thus eliminating the need to transmit credit card numbers, for example, over a mobile connection.
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