Mobile Commerce

As originally used in 1997, the term mobile commerce describes the use of wireless technology to let consumers shop anywhere. Modern usage of the term typically describes any technology that brings retail straight to customers' hands. Mobile commerce includes many new technologies, services and business models that take advantage of mobile devices and encompasses the full impact that these devices have on purchasing decisions.


Mobile commerce was first introduced in 1997 in Helsinki, Finland with the appearance of vending machines that accepted payment via SMS messaging. In the same year, Merita Bank of Finland launched the world's first mobile banking services. The next decade saw more mobile commerce options appear all over the world, but it was the advent of the smartphone that allowed mobile commerce to emerge as a significant portion of the global economy. Today, tens of billions of dollars change hands yearly via mobile transactions.

Types of Mobile Commerce

Location-Based Services: Many forms of mobile commerce take advantage of mobile devices' ability to track consumers' locations. Services using this technology can offer local information, direct customers to nearby businesses and offer discounts to consumers who are close to a point of sale.

Mobile Ticketing and Vouchers: In the transportation industry, passengers can purchase virtual tickets using their mobile devices and check in easily by presenting their devices. Manufacturers and retailers use the same technology to distribute coupons and loyalty cards, which can be presented in-store to receive the same benefits as a printed coupon.

Content Purchasing: A great deal of mobile commerce concerns products that are intended for mobile devices themselves. Mobile content purchases range from ring-tones and mobile games to feature-length movies that can be downloaded and watched on a mobile screen.

Mobile Banking and Brokerage: Financial institutions make extensive use of mobile commerce to let customers view their accounts and make transactions wherever they are. Transfers, remittances and investments are all accessible via mobile banking. Similarly, mobile brokerage services allow investors to respond to market developments in real time regardless of their physical location.

Mobile Browsing: Using Internet-capable mobile devices, consumers can access retail websites and purchase goods online just as they would with a personal computer. Mobile browsers account for a growing number of purchases today; in December 2012, for instance, Wal-Mart estimated that 40 percent of visits to its shopping site came from mobile devices.

Mobile Marketing: The term "mobile marketing" refers to marketing efforts designed to appeal to and directed specifically at mobile customers. SMS (Short Message Service), MMS (Multimedia Message Service), in-game marketing, QR (Quick Response) codes and mobile website marketing are some of the most important tools in the hands of mobile marketers.

Mobile Payment

Mobile commerce also includes a number of payment methods intended specifically to accommodate mobile devices. Many mobile purchases are added directly to the customer's mobile telephone bill; others require using premium-rate telephone numbers, which add a charge to the consumer's long-distance bill. As with any online purchase, credit cards are quite popular, and some carriers allow a credit card number to be linked directly to the phone's SIM card for easy transactions. Other popular payment options include micropayment systems and pre-paid stored-value cards.