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Cellphone retail sales disappoint

New York Times / April 18, 2011

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NEW YORK — Retailers who once envisioned a vast new market of mobile shoppers eagerly hitting “buy’’ on their cellphones have run headlong into a harsh reality: Their customers are all thumbs.

Many retailers’ mobile sites and apps make it difficult to shop. It can be hard to examine items on a small screen, pages are often slow to load, and entering information on a mobile keyboard requires surgical precision or tiny fingers.

Retailers say only about 2 percent of sales come via mobile devices, well below expectations of many analysts.

In 2010, according to Acquity Group, 12 percent of the top 500 US online retailers had sites compatible with mobile browsers; 7 percent had apps.

Retailers are pursuing a variety of improvements, with features like voice search, one-touch checkout, and simplified mobile sites. Boston-based Rue La La, for example, a flash-sale site for fashion, makes customers log in; they can then purchase with one touch.

“Part of it is psychological,’’ said Steve Davis, Rue La La president, “moving the log-in to the front of your experience, instead of interrupting while you’re in the checkout lane.’’