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The most successful mobile shopping sites are eBay and Amazon, which together account for four out of every five mobile shopping transactions. Ebay reported nearly $2 billion in mobile sales last year - more than tripling its 2009 total - and it expects to reach $4 billion this year. And in July 2010, Amazon capped off a 12-month period of mobile sales exceeding $1 billion.

Both companies were early to invest in mobile. But just as importantly, they’ve been able to smooth the checkout process by accepting PayPal or storing payment information in users’ accounts.

They’ve also worked to make searching simpler. With Amazon’s price-checking app, for instance, you can speak the name of an item and it will show the lowest price in its marketplace. And with ebay, customers can receive a notification when they’ve been outbid or the bidding is ending for a particular item.

“You can be in a meeting and you can bid then and there,” says eBay spokeswoman Katherine Chui.

Their strategies seem to be working.

But other companies say even if consumers aren’t overwhelmingly using their apps to make purchases on their phones, the devices still are driving in-store purchases.

Target, Best Buy, American Eagle Outfitters and others are boosting sales with a third-party mobile application called Shopkick that gives customers special offers anytime they step into their stores. And inside Home Depot, a shopper can launch the store’s app and get more information about a lawn mower or other item without having to ask a salesperson.

Hal Lawton, Home Depot’s president of online, says “that gives us opportunities to keep shoppers in our stores longer,” even if the impact on the bottom line is hard to quantify.