For retailers, e-commerce is quickly becoming m-commerce.
With smartphones and tablets continually in the hands of consumers, it’s obvious that mobile is fundamentally changing the nature of online shopping—and shopping overall.
While the overall trend itself is clear, the details are sometimes fuzzy.
Exactly how widespread is mobile shopping? What share of online sales originate on mobile devices? Which mobile approaches are most popular with retail brands? Are shoppers still visiting physical stores? How satisfied are consumers with m-commerce experiences?
Mobile Shopping Is Big and Getting Bigger
How prevalent has mobile shopping become? The data shows that it’s now mainstream behavior with American consumers.
According to research from the Integer Group, as cited by eMarketer, nearly two-thirds (64%) of Internet users in the United States say they purchase products via a mobile device.
What’s especially impressive is how quickly mobile shopping has been embraced: in 2012 only a quarter of Internet users in the U.S. said they purchased products via a mobile device.
Of course, just because many people use their smartphones and tablets to shop doesn’t necessarily mean that most e-commerce purchases are mobile-driven.
The data shows that roughly a third (34.5%) of retail e-commerce sales are expected come via mobile this year.
That’s impressive, but it also highlights that desktop computers remain the primary devices for purchasing online today.
The future, however, is a different story. The eMarketer researchers project that mobile’s share of U.S. e-commerce spend will steadily increase in the coming years, reaching 53.9% by 2021.
Mobile Remains a Work in Progress for Retailers
How are retailers approaching mobile? Which tactics do they plan to invest in going forward?
According to data from Boston Retail Partners cited by eMarketer, the most utilized approaches currently are mobile sites (60% of retailers say they have implemented), mobile apps (53%), suggestive selling (48%), and mobile offers in-store (23%).
However, just because these tactics are being used doesn’t mean they’re being used well. A large share of retailers say their efforts need improvement across all the approaches, including mobile sites (38% who use say it needs improvement), mobile apps (39%), suggestive selling (42%), and mobile offers (14%).
In terms of future investment, 43% of retail brands plan to implement in-store mobile offers in the coming years, 36% plan to implement suggestive selling, 31% plan to implement mobile apps, and 22% plan to implement mobile sites.
“Showrooming” Is Popular, Especially with Younger Consumers
While the relationship between e-commerce and physical stores is often depicted as zero-sum—one wins and the other loses—the story is often more complex than that.
Often consumers use a mix of digital and in-person approaches when shopping, with each channel serving certain needs through the research, purchase, and pickup/delivery stages.
This mixed online-offline behavior can clearly be seen in the rapid rise of “showrooming”—when consumers visit a store to see a product and then make the purchase online later.
According to Euclid Analytics data, as cited by eMarketer, some 55% of smartphone owners in the United States say they showroom.
What’s important for retailers to note is that this behavior is especially popular with younger consumers: three-quarters of shoppers ages 18–34 say they showroom.
The Mobile Shopping Experience Still Needs Work
Just because people are flocking to mobile shopping doesn’t mean that the experience is perfect.
A PriceWaterhouseCoopers survey of U.S. Internet users, as cited by eMarketer, found that consumers see much room for improvement with m-commerce.
The problems range from device limitations to connection issues and complaints about poor design: 33.7% of U.S. Internet users say purchasing products via mobile is challenging because their screen is too small, 24% say sites are difficult to use, 19% security, 17% connection speed, and 15.8% lack of Wi-Fi access.
Some of these issues, such as screen size, should fade over time as devices get better and people become more acclimated to mobile shopping.
On the other hand, problems such as site design and security will need to be addressed quickly by any brand that wants to succeed with mobile.
And some of the other issues present opportunities for creative companies. For example, Wi-Fi access and connection speeds may not seem to be the responsibility of retailers, but providing/enhancing these could have a direct positive impact on sales.
Ultimately, the big takeaway from the research is that mobile commerce is here to stay, but not yet fully formed: it’s already popular but poised for much more growth, and the experience is good, but could be made better.
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Written by Michael Del Gigante