Making Savvy B2C Connections

FRAMINGHAM (07/31/2000) - The hottest market for wireless applications is the business-to-consumer space, as evidenced by retailer Best Buy in Minneapolis and The Sabre Group Holdings Inc., a business travel services company in Fort Worth, Texas.

"For us, wireless is mission-critical," says Peter Steven, Sabre's vice president of business and product. Hundreds of business travelers are using smart phones to make instant wireless changes to hotel, airline and car reservations through Sabre, he says. The low costs of enabling wireless transactions are expected to provide Sabre with a quick return on investment, he says. For example, using a voice connection to make a reservation change through a call center is estimated to cost nearly $50; doing so over a wired Web connection costs just $10, while using a smart phone is expected to run Sabre about $5 per transaction, he says.

Some of the headaches Sabre has endured in setting up the wireless system include dealing with various carriers in the U.S. that don't support a standard interface - and probably never will, given competition, says Steven. Sabre has worked with IBM and Finland-based Nokia Corp. to modify the Wireless Application Protocol interface to work with the several U.S. cellular standards.

Best Buy Co.'s division in January started an aggressive plan to roll out wireless online shopping after research revealed that customers were "very interested in using wireless devices," says Mark Ebel, Best Buy's director of digital communications. Ebel says he expects DVDs and software to be among the hottest-selling products after the wireless service launches this month.

Best Buy's wireless initiative is part of a $1 billion e-commerce commitment that included a relaunch of the company's Web site in June.

Smart phones were the logical platform choice for Sabre, since nearly every business traveler has one, Steven says.

Gartner Group analyst Bob Egan says he expects 1 billion wireless phones will be in use worldwide by the end of 2003, at which time about 80% of new phones will be Web-enabled. "Wireless technologies are the growth hormone of e-business," Egan says.

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