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One in five US consumers engage in mobile commerce activities

May 20, 2010

woman-phoneApproximately one in five adult mobile phone owners in the United States have used their handset for mobile commerce in the past month, according to the Mobile Marketing Association’s May 2010 U.S. Mobile Consumer Briefing.

The survey found that 17 percent of respondents used their mobile phone to buy applications, ringtones and other content. However, 6 percent used their phone to receive coupons or discounts and 6 percent used their mobile phone to purchase physical goods or non-mobile content or services, confirming that mcommerce has graduated to include more than just the purchase of digital content for the mobile phone itself.

“First, we now have clear evidence that the consumer’s mobile phone is becoming their ‘second wallet,’” said Peter Johnson, vice president of market intelligence and strategy for the MMA, New York. “Mobile-based transactions have moved beyond buying ringtones, games and etcetera for the device itself to using the mobile phone to buy just about any kind of product conceivable.  

“In other words, the mobile phone isn’t just a delivery purchase for, it is something you purchase with,” he said. “Second, we’re seeing confirmation of this in the growing integration of external financial platforms into the mobile payment process.

“PayPal and mobile access to bank accounts and credit cards are gaining ground on the surcharge to the carrier statement.”

In conjunction with the survey’s release, the MMA also announced that its Mobile Commerce committee has released a new definition of mcommerce:

Mobile Commerce is the one- or two-way exchange of value facilitated by a mobile consumer electronic device (e.g., mobile handset), which is enabled by wireless technologies and communication networks.

An industry-standard definition defines the scope of mcommerce services available in the industry and ensures that terminology is consistent between all parties.

MMA’s Mobile Consumer Briefing research for May incorporated this new definition into its survey design, providing the market with an important first baseline of the extent of mobile commerce as now practiced in the U.S.

The Mobile Consumer Briefing collects answers from a demographically representative sample of more than 1,000 U.S. adult consumers. BlackBerry and iPhone owners engage in mcommerce the most. More than half of iPhone owners and 34 percent of BlackBerry owners have purchased content for their smartphone.

The survey found that 56 percent of mobile content purchases were made through a carrier, and 43 percent used a bank or credit card account for payment.

Adults ages 25-34 used their mobile phones for all transaction types significantly more than any other age group.

Across all categories of transaction types, most respondents considered mcommerce to be “secure and trustworthy.”

The study had several implications for retailers and illustrates a major rethink about what retailing means, and how it works.

For the last decade, retailers had to follow their consumers, as their shopping habits went from “bricks and mortar” to “bricks and clicks.”

Soon they will have to follow them again, to “bricks, clicks and flicks,” per Mr. Johnson.

When customers approached the cash register, retailers used to ask, “Will that be cash or credit?”  Now they’ll need to ask “Will that be cash, credit or mobile?”   

This study shows mobile is a double-edged sword for retailers. 

“The first edge is that their customer is not just the person standing in their store – it’s all the mobile-commerce consumers wandering around outside their store, reachable by a special offer,” Mr. Johnson said. “The second edge?  Even when the customer is in their store, the customer has gained control. 

With mobile commerce, consumers can still comparison shop and purchase from mobile-savvy competitors by using their smartphone application, for example, right up to the last minute, even when they are standing in a check-out line. 

Going forward, retailers need to take a look at their customer base – by demographic, handset, carrier – and discover the different kinds of transactions and experiences that appeal to each.  

“Pardon the pun, but ‘the penny has finally dropped’ in the minds of three groups – consumers, financial intermediaries and retailers – all of which needed to get on board,” Mr. Johnson said.

“Consumers needed to ‘get’ that their mobile device was a shopping cart and a wallet combined,” he said. “Retailers needed to widen their mental aisles to accommodate these mobile carts, and bankers and credit card companies needed to not make it rocket science for the other two groups.”

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Giselle Tsirulnik is senior editor at Mobile Commerce Daily and Mobile Marketer. Reach her at

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