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Could Mobile Commerce Save Brick and Mortar Retail?

By Peter Suciu, Special to

NEW YORK ( CNBC) -- The brick and mortar store has faced many threats including mail order catalogs, telephone marketing and, more recently, Internet retailers. But now, the biggest threat could also be its savior.

The mobile handset is making m-commerce -- as in mobile commerce -- a reality, and unlike e-commerce, it isn't entirely about being tethered to a computer or about shopping online.

Because the phone can go to the store along with shoppers, the mobile phone as a tool for shopping actually has the potential to bridge traditional retail and digital retail in a way that couldn't have been otherwise possible.

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"Mobile has that one piece that connects traditional retail with digital," says Michael Becker, North American Managing Director of the Mobile Marketing Association. He says that when it comes to mobile commerce, we need to step back and first think about its definition. "In the strictest sense, it is about the exchange of something of value with a mobile device."

Comparing, Deciding, Buying

Becker suggests that the exchange is not necessarily limited to a product for money. Mobile commerce could also be about allowing the consumer to make a more informed decision while shopping. While web-based commerce has already allowed for consumers to compare prices, read reviews and make informed purchases at their computer and thus before heading to the store, the mobile component allows shoppers to do all this while in a retail environment.

"This is what we call the scan and scram shopper," says Greg Gerard, Program Director for Retail Merchandise Strategies at IDC Retail Insights. "It is those who can find an item and compare by scanning and determine whether they're seeing if for less money."

Thus, they may even delay or forgo the purchase entirely, says Gerard, who notes that this shopping warrior class accounted for about 24 percent of last season holiday sales. And those numbers are only going to increase. According to recent IDC Retail Insight findings, these hyper-connected individuals will account for 28 percent or $127 billion of the $447 billion predicted that consumers will spend this holiday season.

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