The View From the Top

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I had hoped to climb Mount Fuji in Japan for quite some time and, in July, my friend Sharon and I did just that. Along with our two Japanese friends (sisters Mari and Yuki), we trekked through the night, with only a few flashlights and walking sticks to guide our group nearly 12,388 ft. in the air to see the sunrise the next morning.

After hours of mind-numbing body torture, the consumption of too many power bars and breathing into mint-flavored oxygen cans to survive the thinning air, we finally did it—and the view from the top was more amazing than I had ever imagined.

Along the way, however, the most incredible thing happened: The phone rang.

I was speechless as Mari picked up her cell phone and chatted with her boyfriend who lives back in the United States. Miles in the sky, I could barely breathe the air, yet somehow her wireless service worked perfectly. Mari, who was unfazed, said, “While I have my phone out, I should check if it’s supposed to rain later.”

Internet too? Not only is my own cell-phone service relentlessly spotty back in New York City, it often takes too long to load a Web page. I kept thinking that her wireless carrier should film its next commercial at the top of Mount Fuji.

The United States can learn a lot from looking at the mobile trends currently flowering out East. In Japan, the combination of affordable, sophisticated mobile phones, high-speed networks, increased consumer advertising via mobile devices and the adoption of mobile commerce by companies, ranging from retailers to banks, have made it a highly effective and ubiquitous channel. It’s only a matter of time before it makes a big splash on our shores, according to Hossein Mousavi, the CEO and co-founder of mPoria, a Seattle-based m-commerce solution provider.

“In Asia, mobile commerce has matured into an efficient and firmly established consumer buying channel which allows retailers to reach their consumers anytime, anywhere,” Mousavi said. “It also helps them strengthen profitable customer relationships in ways that have not been possible before.”

Mousavi also noted that the aggregate volume of physical goods bought by consumers through mobile phones in Japan surpassed $6 billion in 2007. These numbers are growing at a rapid rate, now beyond Asia to Europe and the United States. All players in the ecosystem, which range from device manufacturers and carriers to consumers, marketers and retailers—are recognizing the market opportunity for mobile commerce, and many are already engaging in it.

There are more than 250 million wireless consumers in the United States alone, and industry analysts forecast the m-commerce market for retail will exceed $500 million in 2008, Mousavi said. Research has shown that many U.S. consumers are already trying to access retailers’ sites on their mobile phones, but retailers often don’t have a mobile site.

“As a retailer, if you are someone’s favorite site and don’t have a mobile presence yet, you are disappointing a lot of your mobile consumers who immediately surf elsewhere on their mobile phones,” Mousavi said.

It’s evident that something big is forever about to change the way we shop—and retailers need to get ready now to survive the climb to the top.

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