Sunday, March 21, 2010

Mobile market ripe for growth

When Marshall Benhard charges up his cell phone, it's not just to make calls.
The 26-year-old business owner uses his iPhone to buy plane tickets, translate words into Vietnamese, and check his bank account. If a local restaurant doesn't take reservations on a mobile Web site, Benhard usually moves on to another location.

"My phone is always with me, all the time," Benhard said.

With customers like Benhard increasingly attached to their smart phones, companies large and small in the Nashville area are spending money on launching mobile Web sites, enabling customers to easily buy products and make reservations on their phones. Mobile sites are often pared-down versions of regular Web sites, letting customers navigate the information faster on their handheld devices.

Analysts say it's the wave of the future, as more consumers are snapping up smart phones like Apple's iPhone. Mobile commerce made up $201 million in sales last year and is expected to grow to $360 million in 2013, according to projections from Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research.

"I think it's not only a trend. We're only seeing the tip of the iceberg," said Dawn Iacobucci, senior associate dean of Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management. The younger generation of consumers remained tied to their cell phones, and it's a new opportunity for businesses to connect with them.

"They use their phones for everything," Iacobucci said. "It's an extension of their hands almost."


Nashville-based Gaylord Entertainment Co. this month plans to launch a mobile site that allows its clients to make hotel and restaurant reservations. The company also is testing text message alerts that notify guests who sign up for the service about hotel events.

"It makes it easier for the consumer to interact with us the way they want to," said Michael McCamish, Gaylord's manager of e-commerce marketing.

Restaurants with mobile sites have an edge in attracting smart phone users like Benhard. He uses the program OpenTable on his iPhone to reserve a table at local restaurants like Germantown's The Mad Platter and Suzy Wong's House of Yum on Church Street. The program also lists the restaurant's price range and links to the menu.

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