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1/29/2006
10:30 PM
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Consumers Use Smart Phones For Online Shopping, Not Buying

America Online, MSN, and Yahoo are ramping up information sites for online shoppers using mobile phones. But, for now, they're holding off on offering transaction capabilities.

Our cell phones have become cameras and music players. So, now that more than 300 million of them in North America also can browse the Internet, how long before we use them to buy TVs and tennis shoes?

The biggest portals on the Web – America Online, Microsoft's MSN and Yahoo – have launched versions of their shopping comparison sites that mobile phone subscribers can access from their devices in what could be the first step in the next wave of online retailing.

But the companies aren't pushing transactions over the phone. For now, they're content just to provide basic price and product information and leave the actual sale to another medium.

Chris Saito, senior director of product management for Yahoo Shopping, wants consumers in store aisles to turn to their phone for last-minute price checks. "You're in a store shopping for a digital camera or piece of electronics or a pair of jeans and you want to see if you're getting a good deal. You do a search on your phone, it takes a few seconds, and you see if you're getting good deal or should just go home and buy it on a PC."

Waiting to make a purchase at a computer, rather than with a phone, will make sense until enough online retailers make simplified versions of their Web sites that fit on a tiny screen. Some, like EBay and Overstock.com, have started to do that. But then there's the task of having to punch a credit card number into a mobile phone.

"This is a price comparison tool. I'm not clear people will buy stuff on their phone," besides ring tones and games, says Craig Eisler, general manager and senior vice president of AOL Wireless at America Online, a division of Time Warner. "There's a long road to hoe to get consumers to triple-tap their credit card into a handset to buy a flat screen TV."

The company introduced its mobile search services in July, giving customers the ability to search the Web, comparison shop and access local listings from AOL Yellow Pages. "Local search while mobile we think is one of the most compelling features we have to offer," Eisler says.

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