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Mon, May 8, 2000
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E-Commerce Goes Mobile As Companies Offer
Wireless Shopping

Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — Buying a CD online the moment a friend raves about it or ordering airline tickets from the Internet while killing time at the doctor's office could soon be as commonplace as logging onto a PC to do the same things.

With tens of millions of people expected to own Internet-capable phones in a few years, online business is casting an eye on how to extend electronic commerce beyond the home computer to "m-commerce" — mobile commerce.

"It's going to be the most fantastic thing that a time-starved world has ever seen," said Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Internet company Amazon.com. Via satellite, Bezos delivered his message Tuesday to the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association meeting in New Orleans.

Recently, his company aligned itself with various mobile carriers to feature links to Amazon.com on phone menus.

The revolution toward wireless Internet will permanently change how people shop, Bezos said. For example, someone could do errands while sitting in a doctor's office or hear from a friend about a book and buy it on the spot.

Looking 10 years into the future, Bezos predicted that all Amazon's revenue may one day come from wireless purchases.

Picking book titles is one thing, but browsing for jewelry and clothing on a 3-inch cell phone screen might be less compelling. For that reason, some kinds of uses will lend themselves better than others to wireless shopping, said Mohan Vishwanath, vice president of Yahoo! Everywhere.

"Mobile commerce is still a very, very early thing," said Vishwanath, who heads a division of the online service focused on wireless distribution. Some applications that people really need to see on a full-sized color PC screen may not translate well into a wireless device, while others such as buying movie tickets could be embraced quickly, he said.

As it edges into mobile commerce, Yahoo! plans to offer its online auction service soon to mobile wireless users. Its customers would set up their bids and preferences on a PC and would be alerted on their wireless devices if they had been outbid. That would give them the opportunity immediately to put in another offer from their phone.

Mark Lowenstein, executive vice president of the Yankee Group research firm, said financial trading or buying from a simple list of online items over the World Wide Web could take off most easily with the public.

"It's a big experimentation phase now to see what kinds of commerce people are interested in doing on their mobile," Lowenstein said.

Some say it may take a little time for people to adopt mobile commerce. First they must adapt to the idea of using cell phones for more than just making calls.

"People need to get comfortable first," said Debra Carroll, vice president of marketing for Bell Atlantic Mobile. "But once they do, wireless technology could allow businesses to give consumers even better services than they could from a fixed site," she said.

Using location information technology embedded in wireless phones, companies could offer specific details on the nearest location for something the cell phone user wanted, said Richard Sulpizio, president and chief operating officer of Qualcomm Inc., which makes phone handsets and other devices.

Eventually that also could allow for localized advertising on Web sites accessed from wireless phones and handheld computers, he said.

Other businesses, like telephone carriers, stand to benefit as well. For example, customers could have their purchases billed to phone bills rather than credit card bills, creating a new model for financial transactions that would benefit phone carriers.

Motorola is even looking at handsets that would let customers swipe their credit cards through the phone, to recharge them automatically.

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