It’s a safe assumption that never before in the history of cell phones have mobile users been more comfortable with using their handsets as a veritable retail assistant.

An recent online survey conducted by the Mobile Marketing Association asked 1,000 people how they use their mobile phones. 17% admitted using their handsets to purchase applications or other digital content. 6% acknowledged using their phones to obtain coupons or other promotional discounts. And another 6% purchased goods, services, and other “non-mobile” content from their phones.

“It’s taken a couple of years, but they’ve figured out the mobile phone is really a tool kit, and one of the tools it unlocks is this thing called the retail environment,” observed Peter Johnson, vice president of market intelligence for the MMA. “If we had done this survey two or three years ago, I would guess almost all respondents would have used it to purchase ringtones or wallpaper.”

The findings also indicated that the primary users of mobile commerce are adult owners of smartphones who are between the ages 25 and 34. Better than half of those smartphone owners used their iPhones or BlackBerrys to purchase content within the past month. And never before have so many purchases made from mobile phones been related to the aforementioned non-mobile content.

“This is a change not just in quantity, but quality, too,” says Johnson. “This strong and growing adoption highlights the reach, effectiveness and trustworthiness of the mobile channel for a wide variety of purchases, including physical goods and services.”