Despite the undeniable surge in adoption of smartphones and tablets over the past five years, until recently any talk of the impending tidal wave of mobile commerce (m-commerce) has mostly been overstated. As we often see with forecasts about emerging technologies, a sense of irrational exuberance can cause predictions to get out ahead of the realities of consumer behavior.
But this past year appears to be an inflection point, with many consumers now expanding use of their mobile devices for more advanced functions – including digital commerce transactions. With m-commerce now accounting for about one out of every ten e-commerce dollars, it’s finally time for retailers and marketers to start paying close attention to this platform shift so they can develop strategies to meet the evolving needs of their customers.
Developing the right strategies must first begin with having the right context for how consumers are shopping and buying on their mobile devices today. With that in mind, here are 5 things that every marketer should know about the current state of m-commerce:
1 Out of Every 3 Monthly Visitors to the Average Digital Retailer Website Comes Exclusively on Mobile Platforms
Not only is Retail one of the highest penetration activities across all digital media platforms today, but in June it actually had a higher penetration within smartphones (90%) and tablets (91%) than on desktop computers (78%). Given its relative importance on mobile platforms, retailers should not be surprised then to see an increasingly meaningful percentage of their digital visitors being sourced from smartphones and tablets.
What may be surprising to retailers, however, is that for many consumers mobile is the only channel through which they engage with a retail brand during the course of a typical month. A recent Comscore analysis reveals that an average of 35 percent of the average Top 50 retailers’ monthly audience comes exclusively from mobile platforms. What this means is that retailers who do not (at a minimum) optimize their mobile browsing experience or introduce mobile apps are effectively turning away a third of their potential customers.
Mobile Apps Drive Smartphone Retail Engagement, While Mobile Browsing Wins on Tablets
Effectively optimizing to the mobile experience requires not only an understanding of which platform consumers prefer, but also their preferred access method by platform. As it turns out, the extent to which digital consumers rely on apps vs. mobile browsing in the retail category varies a great deal between smartphones and tablets. While apps drive the vast majority (78% of time spent) of Retail category engagement on smartphones, mobile web browsing is actually the preferred touchpoint for tablet users in the category (56% of time spent).
Not every retailer has the time or resources to develop a fully optimized experience for every platform. Knowing how consumers engage with Retail on their phones and tablets can help brands better prioritize their efforts.
Smartphones Drive a Higher Share of M-Commerce Dollars than Tablets, But Less on a Per Device Basis
During the first half of 2013, smartphone dollars accounted for $6.7 billion, or 63% of the $10.6 billion in m-commerce spending. This finding seems to defy the conventional wisdom that tablets are much stronger drivers of mobile buying, until factoring in that smartphone adoption (142 million U.S. users in June) far surpasses than of tablets (69 million U.S. users in June). On a per user basis, tablets do drive about 20% more spending on average ($57 spending per tablet owner vs. $47 per smartphone owner).
If retailers are trying to optimize for dollars today, then the smarter bet is to focus their development and user experience efforts on smartphones. But if they want to keep an eye on the future, they’d be wise not to lose sight of the tablet experience. With adoption increasing so rapidly and the higher spending per device user, it might not be very long before we see tablets surpass smartphones in total e-commerce dollars.
Retail Category Browsing Can Vary Considerably by Platform
Retailers and marketers should be careful not assume that all mobile touchpoints are the same in how consumers experience a product category, because smartphones and tablets have very different characteristics that sometimes yield significant behavioral disparities. A recent Comscore analysis of several online retail sub-categories sought to understand how likely consumers were to browse these categories on smartphones and tablets relative to their behavior on desktop computers. The results showed that some categories such as movies and books significantly over-indexed for both mobile platforms, while others such as comparison shopping significantly under-indexed.
Mobile Browsing Index = Retail Category Penetration via Mobile/Retail Category Penetration via Desktop x 100. Index of 100 indicates average representation.
A few other categories, however, showed disparities in their relative usage on the different mobile platforms. Specifically, Apparel and Home Furnishings both significantly over-indexed for browsing behavior on tablets, while they both under-indexed on smartphones. It would seem that these categories, which attract a higher degree of virtual window-shopping given their visual appeal, are more suited to the larger-screened tablet environment. So marketers should take heed that one size does not necessarily fit all in the world of mobile.
M-Commerce Spending Seasonality Shows Wider Variance than Traditional E-Commerce
With consumers still at the early phase of the m-commerce adoption curve, certain related behaviors can tend to lag during periods of low engagement and become more pronounced during periods of high engagement. The last two years in particular have shown m-commerce buying jump during the holiday season (Q4) and then subside over the next two quarters with the low point for the year occurring in Q2.
Retailers and marketers should therefore not be lulled to sleep with the modest pullback in m-commerce spending last quarter, as Q3 spending should begin to climb back to around $6 billion while Q4 spending could surpass that total by 50% or more.
Consumers not only have smartphones and tablets, but they are also increasingly comfortable using them to transact. Retailers with an advanced understanding of m-commerce will be able to most effectively deploy their assets and marketing resources during the year’s most crucial spending period. Doing so just may be the difference between the winners and the losers this holiday season.