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Summary:

Mobile commerce might be getting a lot of attention today, but the reality is that mobile commerce in the U.S. gets very little foot traffic, and might not gain ground for years to come. That leaves some room for a startup like Frucall that offers cell […]

Mobile commerce might be getting a lot of attention today, but the reality is that mobile commerce in the U.S. gets very little foot traffic, and might not gain ground for years to come. That leaves some room for a startup like Frucall that offers cell phone users a way to compare the price of goods through just a basic low-tech phone call. It’s not mobile payments yet, but its a step toward easier shopping via wireless.

The way it works is that a Frucall user calls the 1-800 number, types in the barcode of the product, and listens to a list of price quotes from Amazon, Yahoo Shopping and, just added today, Streetprices.com. The service might not convince the early adopter types, given mobile data users could easily get sick of listening to automated voice messages. I know I do.

But CTO Nasser Manesh says the service is targeted at the mainstream cell phone user that favors “good-old voice interface,” as he puts it. It could become popular with thrifty U.S. shoppers because its simple to use and of course it is free. That’s the niche the company wants to fill, given comparison-shopping on the web could be pretty easy to port to a web-based mobile phone. Nasser says the service, which is still in beta, has 700 registered users, given word of mouth.

Frucall also uses SMS to help users create a social network around shopping. Next week the company is turning a group-based voice messaging system on, that records voice messages and saves them for your Frucall peers. I’m not sure how the social-networking function will do, given a lot of social networks are based on the allure of checking out visual profiles. A mobile social network that doesn’t emphasize images, and is based on voice and SMS messaging, might not keep its users happy. But Frucall also has more tech-savvy mobile commerce plans in the pipeline, including a WAP site.

Update: Mobile commerce in the U.S. is getting hot enough to deliver $10 million more to mobile coupon startup Cellfire. Menlo Ventures led the deal, which will help the company market its cell phone coupon service to more users. (Cellfire is a GigaOm advertiser)

  1. Any indication as to the longer term revenue model?

    It looks like advertising, pay-per-use, or a periodic fee could be explored?…

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  2. Based on who the data is being provided by, it looks like they are getting a percentage of what Yahoo charges the merchant for the sale, the standard affiliate rate that Amazon pays, and percentage of what Streetprices.com charges merchants to be in their network.

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  3. The cellular operators have been pondering wireless e-commerce for years and there has been relatively little activity…until recently.

    The operators have been terrified of irritating their subscribers through any sort of advertising and have not been able to come up with innovative wireless e-commerce products.

    Commerce over wireless is primarily ringtones and wallpaper and, most recently, music downloads. In the past year there has been an explosion of companies offering their solutions to wireless commerce and advertising.

    A few barcode companies, such as Scanbuy and NeoMedia, for example, have been aggressive in promoting barcodes for camera phones.

    Taking a camera phone photo of a barcode — and then receiving information about the product — seems to make a lot of sense. But camera phone photos usually do a terrible job of producing an image that can be readable.

    This is changing, somewhat, as we’re seeing one megapixel, two megapixel and, just recently, a three megapixel camera phone. Alas, getting a good barcode image requires much more than a high number of pixels.

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  4. Jesse Kopelman Tuesday, July 11, 2006

    Barcodes are a pain in the ass to type. As Alan mentions, they are also hard to properly photograph (even with a dedicated camera, let alone a phone). The answer is better software at the server end. Computing power coupled with fuzzy logic could go a long way.

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