Purchasing via a mobile device has particular challenges -- privacy concerns, smaller keyboards -- you don't worry about on a desktop, but the potential for new business means that travel companies are quickly adapting to make buying things easier.
Expedia Inc., Fandango Inc. and EBay Inc. are among online retailers benefiting from surging mobile sales, as on-the-go consumers increasingly use wireless devices to book hotels and buy event tickets.
Expedia, operator of a travel bookings website, may see U.S. hotel purchases via handheld devices taking up half its total within two years, according Joe Megibow, general manager of Expedia.com. Fandango said 30 percent of movie tickets it sold this summer were through smartphones and tablets.
While mobile computing has been on the rise, on-the-go transactions account for only a sliver of e-commerce sales — 7.6 percent last year — according to ABI Research. Although many companies are rushing to adapt their sites for mobile users and advertising, those that focus on movie tickets or travel bookings are vaulting ahead, said Chetan Sharma, an independent wireless analyst.
“Movie tickets is an impulse-buy category — you see an ad, a friend mentions it, you have time, you purchase it on the spot,” said Sharma, who is hosting the Mobile Future Forward conference on Sept. 10 in Seattle.
“It is also about convenience. One category in travel that is working well from an impulse point of view on smartphones is short-term flight and hotel,” Sharma said.
Online auction site EBay, which is already seeing consumers buying more than 9,000 cars and more than 340,000 car accessories a week via handheld devices, believes mobile purchases could account for half of its total transactions in a few years.
“It’s probably more than two, but less than 10 years away,” Steve Yankovich, vice president of EBay Mobile, said in an interview.
Seeking to cater to mobile customers, travel and leisure portals are also optimizing their websites. Expedia’s discount travel site Hotwire is redesigning its pages to better work on tablets, said President Clem Bason. It’s also preparing to introduce a mobile application for Apple Inc. devices that would let consumers easily book hotels, he said.
EBay — which runs the world’s largest Internet marketplace as well as the PayPal electronic payment network — has expanded its mobile group to hundreds of dedicated staffers, Yankovich said. He briefs EBay Chief Executive Officer John Donahoe once a month and expects to book $10 billion in mobile transactions, up from $5 billion last year.
“We are seeing hyper-growth,” Mark Young, a vice president of NBCUniversal Entertainment & Digital Networks, which owns Fandango, said in an interview. “It all comes back to convenience.”
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