More consumers are using mobile devices to pay for online purchases, but small merchants aren't doing much to accommodate them.

That lack of preparation for a new kind of shopper leaves an opening for independent sales organizations to teach retailers about website optimization for mobile payments, according to executives from two companies that commissioned research on the topic.

"The ISO sales force making phone calls or with feet on the street is the first line of education," says Craig Tieken, director of product for TransFirst LLC, a Hauppauge, N.Y.-based transactions processor and a sponsor of the recent study. "This is a golden opportunity for learning across the industry."

"I would encourage anyone in the industry to get involved and start getting familiar with optimization," agrees Dave Abouchar, senior director of product manager for ControlScan Inc., an Atlanta-based security vendor and the study's other sponsor.

ISOs that take up that challenge will find their audience near the start of the learning curve, the executives maintain.

"Clearly, one of the key findings is a lot of these small-business owners are flying by the seat of their pants" regarding the subject, Abouchar says.

The majority (55%) of the 736 small-business operators who responded to the survey say they aren't optimized for online mobile payments, and another 20% were unsure. That makes a total of 75% who apparently haven't prepared.

Meanwhile, about half of American mobile phone users carry smartphones capable of making mobile payments, the study says, citing an IDC Financial Insights survey. Moreover, IDC says 34% of Americans report they have already made a mobile payment.

The optimization that would accommodate those would-be mobile payers falls into several areas, Tieken says. Consumers want a site that downloads quickly, appropriately sized fonts and graphics that don't require a lot of zooming, menu-driven choices, preloaded payment data that alleviates the need to type in lots of characters on a tiny keyboard, and simple checkout, he maintains.

If mobile consumers have a good experience on the site, they make a purchase 80% of the time, Tieken says, citing PayPal Inc. research. If the experience falls short, the likelihood of a purchase falls to 8%, he says, again referring to PayPal findings.

What's more, search engines know what kind of device a user is wielding when requesting prices for snow skis or the location of the nearest Taco Bell, Tieken says. Search sites can even differentiate between an iPhone 3GS and an iPhone 4S, he notes.

If a search originates on a mobile device, search engines list sites optimized for mobile devices at the top of the results and relegate other sites to the bottom, Tieken says, adding that "nobody goes to page two."

Although Abouchar and Tieken agree that the acquiring industry should teach merchants about optimization, both concede that most ISOs still have a lot to learn about the subject.

Tieken advises ISOs to look to processors for help in getting started. The study, conducted June 12 through July 16, also provides a starting point, he says. "I would encourage anyone in the industry to start getting familiar," agrees Abouchar.

Understanding online mobile payments can seem challenging with several models competing for dominance, but Abouchar urges ISOs to learn about them and perhaps pick a favorite. "Start to draw your own preferences," he says.

The two companies are presenting their findings in a Web seminar scheduled for Sept. 18.

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