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So many people want the next-generation iPhone that AT&T had to shut down its preorders. Such examples are more and more common, in that customers have come to regard their mobile phones as the most important tool in their technology arsenal. In turn they are accessing retailers’ Web sites via their smartphones at ever increasing rates, and retailers are just not keeping up.

Currently only 30 percent of retailers offer mobile-commerce Web sites. Recent research suggests consumers will purchase $2.2 billion worth of goods through their cell phones this year, five times more than in 2008. The introduction of the newest iPhone will give more customers more opportunity to use their phones to shop.

Lilly Pulitzer, the women’s clothing retailer, is paying attention. Its iPhone application its designed expressly to help users view its products and place orders, beyond just providing a mobile Web site. Home Depot’s iPhone application also supports mobile commerce, as well as providing how-to guides and videos. Instead of forcing consumers to switch to HomeDepot.com to make a purchase, the retailer wants them to rely on the Home Depot iPhone app. It predicts that 30–40 percent of traffic to homedepot.com will soon initiate from a cell phone. Another early mover, 1-800-Flowers earns tens of thousands of dollars in sales per month from its mobile site.

The key to a good mobile site is the ease of navigation; a minimal number of clicks should enable users to accomplish anything on the site. Younger customers (under 30 years of age) prefer to communicate via cell phones, so the instant capability to order at the moment the need is recalled is very useful. If a partygoer is desperate to have the Lilly Pulitzer shirt another person is wearing, she should be able to order it immediately, which prevents the risk that she forgets to buy it or cannot remember exactly what it looked like.

Discussion Questions

1. Why are mobile sites valuable for retailers? 

2. What is the difference between a mobile Web site and a mobile commerce Web site?

Dana Mattioli, “Retailers Answer Call of Smartphones,” The Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2009.