The growing use of smartphones by consumers to make purchases appears to be prompting small-business owners to follow suit.

About one-fourth of small-business owners, 24%, said they sometimes make purchases using mobile devices and 3% do so always, according to a report released this month by the business supply retailer Staples Inc.

Still, 73% said they had never made a business purchase using a mobile phone.

The results surprised Anabela Perozek, Staples vice president of business delivery. "My assumption going in was that mobile [purchasing] was more of a consumer application," she said. "I really did not expect that many small businesses would be using mobile devices to make purchases; 27% is really a high percentage." Perozek attributes the findings to the growth in consumer use of smartphones and a melding of personal and business activities, especially among people who own small businesses. "There's also a higher propensity for people to use a mobile device" to shop "if they are already ordering online," she said.

The study was conducted by KRC Research, which polled 300 small-business owners online between June 11 and June 16.

Small-business owners who shop online frequently — three or more times per month — are more than twice as likely to view mobile capabilities as important than those who place one to two orders online per month, the survey found. Two percent of respondents said they always use a mobile application to make purchases and 15% said they sometimes do; 83% said they had never used a mobile app to make a purchase.

Among respondents who had made purchases using a mobile app, 59% said the ideal application would send e-mails or text messages alerting them when their favorite products go on sale; the same percentage said they would like an app that could link to other apps, such as PayPal Inc.'s payment service or Google Inc.'s Checkout, for easy and secure mobile checkout. In addition, 55% said the ideal app would provide instant e-coupons, while 53% cited the ability to recognize a picture of a product taken with the phone and to note whether it is available at the store and, if so, for how much.

Moreover, 51% said the ideal app would synch with an existing account, and the same percentage cited the ability to scan bar codes to store information about a product to purchase later.

Despite the high percentage of small businesses using mobile phones for purchases, the data found no evidence of any "revolution" in terms of the impact mobile phones or social media are having on small-business purchases, said James Van Dyke, the president and founder of Javelin Strategy and Research in Pleasanton, Calif.

"Yet with nearly double-digit percentages of [small businesses] involved in one or the other, the numbers are currently strong enough to be essential to banking and payments leaders to be planning for related-product capabilities," he said, citing acquiring and marketing as examples. "As always, we see many owners driving the small-business purchase decisions, and these are great targets for bankers because they are time-starved and often in possession of more financial assets."

And with new regulations limiting what bankers can do to charge mainstream fees, audiences such as small businesses will take on greater importance, Van Dyke said.