Survey: E-commerce retailers can do more selling wirelessly

Only 15 percent of Cisco-surveyed US and European sites allow purchase via a mobile phone

Only a small portion of retailers allow wireless purchases by consumers, an area for potential improvement in e-commerce sales, according to an internal study byCisco Systems.

The study, released Tuesday, was conducted by Cisco's Internet Business Solutions Group. It looked at 45 retail-oriented Web sites during the December-January buying season of 2007-2008, picking the 45 from the largest companies globally, as well as known e-commerce innovators and the commonly top-rated Web 15 companies, said Lindsay Parker, director of the group.

Of the 45 sites, 42 percent allowed a view of products with a mobile phone or other wireless device, Parker said. Only 15 percent allowed a purchase via a mobile phone. About half of the sites were based in Europe and the other half in the US.

Many of the sites tested via mobile phone pushed out a Web page as it is commonly seen on a PC, making it difficult and time-consuming to scroll down to get to desired content, Parker said. "Obviously they were not designed for a phone," she said. "Navigating was sometimes clunky and difficult." She said the process was sometimes so difficult that she would have stopped trying had she not been one of the people conducting the survey.

Cisco testers spent three to four hours on each site, assessing each on 58 attributes, including mobile device functionality, Parker said.

"While the mobile channel has been around for a while, the shopping channel is new on mobile," Parker said in an interview. "As companies in e-commerce are thinking where to focus investments, the mobile channel is a good place to investigate and figure out how customers might use that channel."

Parker singled out Amazon.com for doing a "really terrific job" in mobile e-commerce, and named several European companies as well. Some of the retailers, about 10 percent, were using text messaging via wireless to provide alerts about the status of an order.

Cisco named several e-commerce sites as the best for providing basic capabilities, such as an intuitive graphical user interface. These sites also offered innovative features, such as integrating their Web sites with mobile devices in mind and for providing social networking capabilities. They were Amazon.com, Best Buy , Sears , Circuit City, Quell, Otto, Macy's FNAC, bol.com and Argos Home Retail Group.

In a statement, Cisco noted that mobile commerce is quickly joining in-store, traditional e-commerce via PC and catalogs as an important retail channel. While there are 1.3 billion Internet users globally, there are more than 3.2 billion mobile phone subscribers, Cisco noted. All told, e-commerce accounts for about 6 percent of all retail sales in the US, Cisco said, citing Forrester Research. Online sales, mobile and otherwise, are expected to reach US$204 billion globally this year, and $335 billion by 2012.

Parker said the survey was conducted before the US economy began heading significantly downward, although the survey did not evaluate the success of the sites in making sales. "Things have deteriorated in the economy since the holidays, but now is the time to invest in e-commerce, especially for the larger retailers," she said. Some retailers need to realize that with the economy in a downturn, now is the time to differentiate and grab market share, and developing a mobile is one way to do that, she added.

This is the third year that Cisco has analyzed e-commerce sites, adding Europe for the first time. Next year, some e-commerce companies based in Asian countries will be evaluated, since many are considered leaders in the mobile e-commerce arena.

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