Consumers’ increased use of smart phones to shop appears to be having an effect on how small businesses purchase. New survey data suggest that 27% of small companies use mobile devices to make purchases.

About one-fourth of respondents, 24%, said they sometimes make purchases using mobile devices, while 3% said they always do; 73% said they had never made a business purchase using a mobile phone, according to the online survey of 300 small businesses KRC Research conducted June 11 to 16 for business-supply retailer Staples Inc.

The results surprised Anabela Perozek, Staples vice president of business delivery. “My assumption going in was that mobile (purchasing) was more of a consumer application,” she says. “I really did not expect that many small businesses would be using mobile devices to make purchases; 27% is really a high percentage.”

Perozek attributes the findings to the growth in consumer use of smart phones and a melding of personal and business activities, especially when individuals own small businesses. “There’s also a higher propensity for people to use a mobile device (to shop) if they are already ordering online,” she adds.

Small businesses that shop online frequently (three or more times per month) are more than twice as likely to believe mobile capabilities are important than are those that place one to two orders online per month, the survey found.

Asked how significant it is for retailers from which they make purchases to have mobile-commerce capabilities, 8% of small-business respondents said it was very important and 15% said it was somewhat important, while 58% said it was not an important factor; 20% said it was not applicable because they did not have a phone capable of supporting mobile purchasing.

Seventeen percent of respondents said they at least sometimes use a mobile application to make a purchase, with 2% saying they always use an app and 15% saying they sometimes do; 83% said they had never used a mobile app to make a purchase.

Among the respondents that had made a purchases using a mobile app, 59% said the ideal application would send e-mails or text messages alerting them when their favorite products go on sale; the same percentage cited synching with other apps, such as PayPal, mPayy or Google Checkout, for easy and secure mobile checkout. In addition, 55% said the ideal app would provide instant e-coupons, while 53% cited the ability to recognize a picture of a product taken with the phone and to note whether it is available at the store and, if so, for how much.

Moreover, 51% said the ideal app would synch with their existing account, and the same percentage cited the ability to scan bar codes to store information about a product to purchase later.

Despite the surprisingly high percentage of small businesses the survey found using mobile phones for purchasing, the data show no evidence of any “revolution” in terms of the impact mobile phones or even social media are having on small-business purchases, notes James Van Dyke, president and founder of Javelin Strategy & Research of Pleasanton, Calif.

“Yet with nearly double-digit percentages of [small businesses] involved in one or the other, the numbers are currently strong enough to be essential to banking and payments leaders to be planning for related product capabilities,” he says, citing acquiring and marketing as examples. “As always, we see many owners driving the small-business purchase decisions, and these are great targets for bankers because they are time-starved and often in possession of more financial assets.”

And with new regulations limiting what bankers can do to charge mainstream fees, audiences such as small businesses will take on greater importance, Van Dyke says.

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