A specific type of commerce has grown considerably in recent years: m-commerce. But what is it?

Short for mobile commerce, m-commerce refers to buying and selling through a mobile device, not a computer. It is a subtype of the broader term ecommerce, which refers to any electronic commerce (“e-commerce”) conducted online.

M-commerce definition

Mobile commerce (m-commerce) refers to any commercial transactions conducted on a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet.

M-commerce has a fairly broad meaning covering different mobile transactions happening over the internet.

For example, you can shop online in your mobile browser or apps for buying or selling. Banking apps facilitate m-commerce when transferring money to settle payments. Subscription-based apps like Spotify and Now TV are designed to be used on a mobile device, and so are on-demand services like Uber and Deliveroo.

Using the hardware technologies of your mobile device is another angle of m-commerce. Think of mobile wallets like Apple Pay that use your phone’s near-field communication (NFC) for contactless taps and your phone that scans QR codes for touch-free ordering. SMS payments and email invoices are other ways to settle transactions through your phone.

Due to the development of faster mobile connections, normalisation of smartphones and global pandemic, m-commerce has for many become the preferred way to conduct their business online.

Types of m-commerce

Smartphones are very versatile devices with the ability to incorporate payments into different business scenarios. The types of mobile commerce can roughly be grouped into three areas:

Browser-/web-based: Websites where you can buy, order or subscribe to products or services. Typically requires entering card details on a web page or paying with your mobile wallet.


  • Online stores like Tesco, Argos and small online retailers

  • Online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay

  • Food ordering through a web page

Apps: Native apps with built-in buying or selling features, or in-app purchases/upgrade options. Often, you can save card details in such apps to make transactions quick and easy.

Some apps also provide a particular function that encourages buying at a later stage, such as customer loyalty apps and “try before you buy” apps.


  • Marketplaces for buying and selling, e.g. Etsy, Vinted

  • Shopping apps, e.g. ASOS, M&S

  • Buy Now Pay Later, e.g. Clearpay, Klarna

  • Banking apps, e.g. Monzo, Barclays

  • Payment apps, e.g. PayPal, Cash App (peer-to-peer payments)

  • Customer loyalty apps, e.g. Starbucks, Argos

  • Takeaway and delivery, e.g. Deliveroo, JustEat

  • Social media with selling features, e.g. Facebook, Instagram, TikTok

  • Subscription-based entertainment, e.g. Audible, Netflix

  • Transport, e.g. Uber, Lyft

  • Try before you buy, e.g. IKEA Place letting you virtually place furniture in your home

  • Healthcare, e.g. online counselling apps

In-person: Any in-person payment method that relies on your phone to process the payment.


  • Mobile wallets (e.g. Google Pay) – Tickets or payment cards are saved in the wallet app. Contactless payments are verified with your PIN, face or fingerprint.

  • QR code payments – Scan QR code with phone camera, open payment page it leads to in your mobile browser and enter card details to finalise the payment.

  • SoftPOS – Merchant enters an amount in a tap-on-phone app and asks the payer to tap their card or mobile wallet on the merchant’s phone directly.

  • POS app with reader – Merchant uses a point of sale (POS) app on their phone to sell. App connects wirelessly to a card reader over Bluetooth to accept cards.