Mobile commerce sputters out of gate

The number of people expecting to shop using the wireless Web has plummeted almost as fast as the world's economy, a new study suggests.

The number of people expecting to shop using the wireless Web has plummeted almost as fast as the world's economy, a new study suggests.

In June of last year, a survey of consumers in the United States, Japan and six other countries found that nearly a third of the people who owned cell phones planned to use the mobile Internet to make purchases.

But six months later, that figure has dropped to just above 10 percent of all cell phone users, according to a survey from industry researcher A.T. Kearney released Wednesday.

What apparently happened is reality set in, said Mitch Mitchell, an A.T. Kearney vice president.

"As will all things new, sexy and exciting, there is often a disconnect between the technology play and how things really are on a day-to-day basis," he said. "It happens in this business all the time."

Consumers apparently began worrying about two important items: These purchases might not be as secure as once believed, and consumers are discovering that what is available now isn't all that useful, according to the survey results.

According to the study, the drop was most precipitous in the United States, where the percentage of people with handsets who intending to make purchases using the mobile Web decreased from 34 percent to 3 percent between June 2000 and Jan.1, 2001.

Other countries didn't fare much better. The number of Europeans intending to buy items with cell phones dropped from 29 percent to 14 percent. In Japan, often a barometer of how well the mobile Web is doing, intent to buy items using the mobile Web dropped from 42 percent to 17 percent.

Another projection comes from The Yankee Group, which suggests that by 2003, consumers will spend $50 billion a year making cell phone consumer buys.

Mobile commerce is one of the new and much hyped applications that telephone service providers are hoping will provide them with new revenue to offset money lost as the cost of a phone call dips.

In most of the world, however, mobile commerce is still the stuff of dreams. The closest most people have gotten to it is a television commercial that aired during the Super Bowl in January, which depicted a man devoid of coin change jealously watching a woman use a cell phone to buy a soda from a machine.

But such technology is taking hold in some areas of the world. Some European service providers have begun consumer trials in which a cell phone is used to feed a parking meter. The meter itself will ring the person's phone when the meter is about to expire.

And the ability to purchase soda from a soda machine with a phone is actually being tested by Ericsson, which did a demonstration of that application a few weeks ago.

The study was released just two days after Amazon decided to scale back its Amazon Anywhere service.

Amazon introduced the wireless strategy two years ago, initially hoping to enable Palm VII owners to buy items from online stores and monitor Amazon auctions, all using cell phones