When was the last time you bought something online? If you’re like most Americans, it was probably within the past week or two. It’s undeniable that e-commerce is a huge and growing part of the retail world with estimated consumer spending predicted to reach $327 billion in 2016. But the more interesting question lately is not if you bought something online, but how you bought it online.
In the world of online shopping, mobile commerce — called m-commerce by insiders — still pales in comparison to desktop sales, but a lot of data, especially from the 2012 holiday season, shows that it’s growing in importance, says Clark Fredrickson, Vice President of Communications for emarketer.com. The IBM 2012 Holiday Benchmark reports that mobile purchases soared with 24 percent of consumers using a mobile device to visit a retailer’s site, up from 14.3 percent in 2011 (actual purchases on mobile devices accounted for about 16 percent of all online sales).
M-commerce includes shopping on smartphones and tablets, but they offer very different experiences. Smartphones are still being used mostly to research purchases on the go and in the store, while tablets are being used to actually make purchases, says Fredrickson. The tablet has a larger screen, so it mirrors the desktop experience which lends itself more to buying, whereas the smaller size of the smartphone is more convenient for on-the-go tasks.
Case in point: a 2012 report from Nielsen found that 78 percent of shoppers use their smartphone to locate a store compared to only 48 percent of shoppers using a tablet. The statistics skew similarly when it comes to other on-the-go behaviors such as checking a price (63 percent vs. 56 percent), using lists while shopping (40 percent compared to 16 percent) and using a mobile coupon (39 percent compared to 10 percent). When it comes to researching a product before buying, the tablet only slightly edges out the smartphone at 68 percent compared to 61 percent, but dominates when it comes to buying outright (43 percent compared to 27 percent).
One-fifth of U.S. homes now have a tablet — and that number is growing, according to Nielsen. The tablet has extended shopping hours because people are now browsing while they lounge on the couch or in bed, says Fredrickson. Sure enough, Flurry Analytics data shows that tablet usage peaks around 9pm. What are people buying on their tablets? According to a 2011 study done by shopcoffeetable.com, books/magazines (46 percent) are the most popular purchases, trailed by clothing/accessories (37 percent) and e-books (30 percent). The IBM report reveals that the iPad was responsible for 88 percent of the m-commerce traffic on this year’s Black Friday (and about 10 percent of total online shopping). Meanwhile, the Barnes and Noble Nook tablet brought 3.1 percent of tablet traffic, followed by the Amazon Kindle Fire (2.4%) and the Samsung Galaxy (1.8 percent).
Okay, more people may be getting tablets these days, but smartphone adoption is much higher, estimated at 50 percent by Nielsen, which translates into a massive group of potential consumers. According to comScore, about 80 percent of phone-based m-commerce transactions are happening via apps. Top purchase-generating apps include iTunes, Target, Zappos, Toys R Us, Walmart, Amazon, Nordstrom, Zara, American Eagle, Crate and Barrel, Sephora, Walgreens, eBay, Gilt, LivingSocial and Groupon. The shopcoffee.com study reports that the most popular purchases on smartphones are also books/magazines (37 percent), followed by film/concert/theater tickets (31 percent) and clothing/accessories/music/DVDs/videos (26 percent) — items that don’t necessarily require a large screen for the consumer to get a sense of what he or she is buying. Looking again to IBM data from this year’s Black Friday, almost 9 percent of mobile traffic came from the iPhone and 5.5 percent came from Android devices.
The way shoppers use their smartphones versus their tablets may be different, but one thing is clear: the people participating in m-commerce tend to be high-income, highly engaged and early adopters of new technology and trends, says Fredrickson. Though Google recently found that 79 percent of large e-tailers don’t currently have a mobile-optimized site, as consumers increasingly demand a more user-friendly m-commerce experience we’re betting this figure is going to change — and quickly.