NEW ORLEANS (03/03/2000) - From the tech industry that mints new buzzwords every day, here's another: "m-commerce," or mobile commerce. Folks here at the Wireless 2000 trade show hope it--and the concept--catch on, too.
Online retailers want to take their stores off your PC and put them in the palm of your hand. They're eyeing the rise of wireless Internet access, which analysts project will hit 80 million Web-enabled phones and 12 million handhelds by 2003. Those estimates could mean booming new business in mobile sales.
Companies ranging from Amazon.com Inc. to upstarts like PayPal.com, IQorder.com, and eCash.com believe that wireless shopping services are a natural extension of electronic commerce. While the Net made distance irrelevant, wireless access to the Web will conquer place.
"We don't care where you are," says Paul Capelli, an Amazon.com spokesperson.
"You could be on a train, stuck in traffic, or in a brick-and-mortar store. We just want you to always have access to Amazon.com."
Shop on the Run
Amazon.com announced a new wireless Web site this week. Users with access to the Net via a wireless device can shop on Amazon.com Anywhere. The site is specially designed for the limitations of wireless browsing, which often takes place on 3-inch mobile phone screens and at speeds that make 14.4-kbps modems seem speedy.
Amazon.com will have company.
IQorder.com plans to make its comparison-shopping site also available through microbrowsers on wireless phones, Palm-size computers, and two-way pagers.
IQorder plans to launch its "Universal Shopping Portal" with 2000 online merchants later this year.
You'll need to set up an account with user name and password, but pay no fees; IQorders gets a cut from its merchant partners. The portal will open to a wide variety of e-shops where you can browse and buy books, office supplies, software, and other products.
"People are going to use our service to buy, comparison-shop, or just to make sure they're getting the best price when they're standing in line to buy a new color TV," says Bradley Holcomb, IQorder.com's executive vice president. "But mostly you'll use us because we're convenient."
Your Mobile Phone Is Your Wallet
By 2003, 79.4 million browser-enabled mobile phones will be in use worldwide, up from a mere 1.1 million in 1999, according to market research firm Jupiter Communications. The analysts also predict 12 million Internet-enabled palm-size computers will enter the market by 2003, up from 5.2 million in 1999.
The anticipated consumer shift to mobile Web browsing could mean big business for companies such as eCode.com and PayPal.com, which see cell phones becoming wireless wallets. They also showed off their systems here at Wireless 2000.
ECode.com offers a wireless equivalent to the Internet security measure called Secure Socket Layer. It's designed to create a safe link to e-commerce Web sites by encrypting private information such as credit card numbers.
ECode.com, which has offered a Web-based digital wallet payment scheme, is now putting its technology in wireless phones. The company is working with cellular phone carriers to offer customers a safe way to buy things using their mobile phones.
The service works like this: When you want to make a purchase through a wireless merchant you visit over your mobile phone or wireless handheld device, you enter your eCode username and password, which automatically fills out shopping forms with your credit card and shipping information.
Another twist on m-commerce is offered by PayPal.com, which is working with Nokia on a mobile payment system. After setting up an account at the PayPal.com Web site, you can send money to someone by e-mail or, in the future, to businesses via a phone number.
Right now the service is available only over the Internet. But PayPal.com and Nokia plan to support PayPal.com on a multitude of wireless devices. Then it could be easier to shop with your mobile phone or handheld.
The partners offered an example at Wireless 2000: Surf on your microbrowser into a Blockbuster video rental store. Enter the movie you want on a little menu to check its availability. Send a payment wirelessly, and the movie will be waiting for you to pick up.
Mobile commerce has plenty of challenges ahead: for one, how consumers will take to shopping for clothes and toys on a 3-inch cell phone screen. Another is how people will feel about paying extra charges for using their cellular phones to make purchases. Or what happens when your battery goes dead on your cell phone while waiting for a table at your favorite restaurant?