Why is smartphone shopping taking off?

Dec 11, 2015

While still a cumbersome experience in many ways, browsing and buying on smartphones is gaining huge traction this holiday season, according to many reports.

As an online browsing tool, mobile for the first time exceeded desktop shopping visits on Thanksgiving at 57 percent, driven by increased use of smartphones at 43 percent, while tablets were at 14 percent, according to Adobe. On Black Friday, mobile devices drove 53 percent of online shopping visits (40 percent smartphones, 13 percent tablets).

For Cyber Monday, IBM found smartphones accounted for 44 percent of all online traffic, more than three times that of tablets at 14.1 percent.

As a buying tool, Adobe found smartphones generated a record 22 percent share of all online sales, 70 percent more than in 2014. Tablets drove 15 percent of online sales on Black Friday, a two percent decrease year-over-year. For Cyber Monday, IBM found smartphones drove 15.2 percent of online sales, up nearly 70 percent over 2014 and exceeding tablets at 12.4 percent.

Smartphone shopper

The expansion in smartphone use comes with the growth in online shopping overall. But smartphone shopping is particularly benefiting from the arrival of larger screens that make browsing and shopping easier while also diluting the main benefit of using a tablet.

Further optimized mobile websites, enhanced apps, e-coupons, easier payment options and other steps are also enhancing the smartphone browsing and purchasing experience.

"It’s a pretty big shift in consumer behavior," Jay Henderson, IBM’s marketing cloud director, told Bloomberg. "Retailers are making it easier for people to shop on their smartphones, the devices are bigger and consumers are getting more comfortable purchasing on small devices."

Not that smartphone shopping is effortless.

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A survey from Eptica, the UK-based customer interaction software company, of 1,000 American shoppers on Nov. 30, for instance, found that 23 percent had made a smartphone purchase from the website of a retailer they shopped so far during the holiday shopping season. Yet 49 percent of those indicated they were dissatisfied with the smartphone shopping experience and only 21 percent admitting to be satisfied.

The convenience of smartphones, particularly device mobility, is offsetting the slow download speeds, hard-to-navigate mobile websites, security concerns and other issues. Forrester analyst Sucharita Mulpuru, told The Associated Press that shoppers "appear to have greater tolerance for imperfection, much like in the early days of desktop."

Do you also see smartphone browsing and buying shifting into higher gear this holiday season? If so, what’s driving the surge in smartphone use for shopping? How do you think the industry will respond?

"Much as retailers first looked at e-commerce as analogous to another "store," the business case for mobile is quite compelling and at this point, with the U.S. over-stored, mobile is the best location available."
"Attention retailers: the trend you’re seeing now is the future. If you think Millennials are glued to the phone, think about how the kids they babysat will behave. The over-storing of the ’80s could turn into the real estate bust of the 2020s."

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18 Comments on "Why is smartphone shopping taking off?"

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Phil Rubin
1 year 9 months ago

Retailers have figured out that everyone has smartphones, that mobile is a shorter path to shopping than traditional physical or even PC-based e-commerce, and have invested accordingly. Mobile customer experiences are increasingly as good or better than a lot of store experiences, especially in terms of information and access to goods.

Much as retailers first looked at e-commerce as analogous to another “store,” the business case for mobile is quite compelling and at this point, with (at least) the U.S. over-stored, mobile is the best location available.

Frank Riso

Smartphone browsing and buying will definitely shift into a higher gear this Christmas season due to the simple fact that many if not most shoppers have one. They can use them while shopping in the store to see if they are getting the best price, if not, they order it right there and online. It is easy to use while just traveling to work on the train or bus. Retailers are already responding in part with free Wi-Fi in their stores and many have mobile apps that can be used in-store for all kinds of assistance and recommendations. Beacons are also being used to track and assist the consumer. The times they are a’ changing once again!

Chris Petersen, PhD.

Simple answer of what is driving smartphone shopping — it’s always there. Smartphones have become the ubiquitous portal for everyone, anytime and everywhere. Millennials epitomize mobile shopping, they are attached to their phones 24 hours a day.

Five main reasons smartphones are driving a shift to mobile shopping:

  1. The smartphone screens are bigger and better;
  2. Smartphone penetration is increasing, especially phablet size;
  3. Millennials are addicted to mobile and influencing shopping behavior;
  4. More websites are becoming mobile optimized, making it easier;
  5. Omnichannel is the new normal and phones are the most available portal

Much work remains on optimizing many websites for mobile access and search. Smart retailers and marketers follow customers. Given the stats quoted by Tom in this post, the push to optimize websites for mobile will continue to accelerate.

Ralph Jacobson

Why is mobile shopping so popular?! Because it’s so convenient! It’s not always easy, depending upon the merchant site, however there’s no stopping its growth, especially internationally. Here’s some more reports from this season so far.

Max Goldberg

Smartphone browsing and shopping will continue to surge throughout the holiday season. Larger screens, site optimization and consumer desire for deals are the leading reasons for this trend. Retailers need to respond by making their sites easier to navigate, optimizing in-site search capabilities and simplifying checkout. Consumers seem willing to shop with their smartphones, it’s up to retailers to make the experience better and therefore drive more sales.

Dave Wendland

YES! The smartphone is here to stay and its ubiquity makes it essential as part of the shopping mix.

Did you know that it has been reported that one in three children under the age of one have already used a smartphone? (Likely not for shopping, but the technology is reaching everyone!)

Cathy Hotka

Attention retailers: the trend you’re seeing now is the future. If you think Millennials are glued to the phone, think about how the kids they babysat will behave. The over-storing of the ’80s could turn into the real estate bust of the 2020s.

Gajendra Ratnavel

Yes this trend is going to continue. The convenience of buying when it pops into your mind, when you are with friends that can help you decide, when you are in the subway or bus to make more efficient use of your time. Overall the public is probably feeling more secure about purchasing on their mobile now as well with all the mobile payment marketing hitting them. Although not directly related to online mobile purchase, it still bolsters confidence in the use of mobile devices for purchasing.

Retailers really need to consider the mobile experience. Devices are small, the interface needs to be streamlined and more visual. Remove the clutter and have a workflow that has the customer purchasing and paying as quickly as possible.

Liz Crawford

Today, time is consumers’ scarcest commodity. So mobility is a critical benefit to shopping, especially during the holidays when everyone is busier. The benefit of mobile devices, of course, is that the user can order and pay anywhere, anytime. That means that all of those “media snackers” (the app gamers and YouTube watchers), will re-purpose their mobile screen time to check “to do” items off their list.

We know just how critical the use of their time is — look at the obstacles they overcome for it (slow, hard-to-read screens, cell drop-out, etc.).

Jonathan Hinz

Great article that really sums up all the pieces here. I spent over eight years with Verizon Wireless and even today I geek out about phones and usage. This year at Trustpilot we’ve seen a 71 percent increase (11 million to 18.9 million) in consumers writing and looking at our 15 million (and counting) e-commerce reviews on their mobile devices.

There’s a fundamental shift occurring right now about how we research and how we buy online brought about by a considerable number of factors mentioned in this article, but also the general backlash from the past 10 years of marketing/advertising version 1.0 that’s not working with the rising buying powers.

The new buying group (Millennials) are doing researching and buying differently. The need for a new approach to marketing/advertising (version 2.0) is quickly growing and mobile usage and engagement is a critical part of it. 85 percent of Millennials have smartphones and they pick them up 45 times a day. That’s only going to increase with faster devices, better batteries and larger screens.

Brands need to embrace the shift and reduce content on their mobile-optimized sites, using engaging UGC content (consumer reviews and pictures) that is mobile relevant.

Todd Hale
Todd Hale
1 year 9 months ago

As a frequent traveler, it is amazing to watch people who are oblivious to their surroundings while engaged on their mobile phones watching video, texting, listening to music and occasionally talking to someone at the other end. They come to complete stops while exiting planes or at the top or bottom of escalators. Smartphones are an extensions of our beings — so why not use them to shop too!

Tom Brown
1 year 9 months ago

Shifting into? There’s tons of data out there about this holiday season already. Smartphone users are more confident in the security that things like Apple Pay provide, they only have to type a 325 digit credit card number in once, most sites are mobile optimized now …

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

Absolutely. Smartphones, not the Internet, represent the greatest shift and shopping opportunity. Instead of BYOB, the mantra is BYOS (bring your own screen).

The industry needs to continue to recognize that this will be the new normal. Therefore, marketers need to develop smartphone-focused strategies and tactics accordingly.

gordon arnold
The better question is, where are smartphone buyers executing the purchase and what brands are they buying? The large majority of shoppers are still hands-on experience oriented. They simply go to a store find what they want, experience the product, and shop for price and free delivery on the phone. Adding the competition to a restricted sites list was offensive to the consumer so the practice was, for the most part, removed. Now with virtual 3G and 4G communication WiFi is of little importance and usually a bit clumsy for most consumers to sign on with. It won’t be long before most store e-commerce sites have a meet or beat pledge plan which will serve best to continue the downward spiral of corporate profits. So what is a brick & mortar store supposed to do? Should we get rid of labels and brands forsaking the teens and twenties generations? Or how about stocking items that are to impractical, expensive or risky to ship? The next generation of retail innovators will have a very new and progressive method of planning, purchasing and allocating goods with superior inventory management skills. In-store displays might be replaced by an ample supply of knowledgeable associates.… Read more »
Kenneth Leung

I find myself doing it because of convenience. As I am in social situations or watch TV or a movie about an item, I do find myself saying “let me just pull that up on my phone” and more often than not, I will place the item in the basket and hit buy, especially through apps where the payment information can be saved. I think that’s why you are seeing it more and more.

Peter Charness

By some surveys nearly half of all items purchased are done as “impulse buys” (don’t ask for the study…but it’s a high percentage depending on the industry segment). The smartphone is the ultimate vehicle to execute that impulse, while completing the buying cycle (price checks) simply and conveniently. Retailers need to make sure they offer mobile friendly interactions, and probably look to increasing paid search as a more effective marketing medium.

Vahe Katros

What’s driving this? My guess is that “She” is driving this for all the reasons we know. End of my shortest RW post.

Shep Hyken

Smartphone browsing and buying is surging, especially among the Millennial generation. It’s become a preferred method over computers (based on recent studies). It’s convenient and in the moment.

The industry must respond with mobile friendly websites. Most retailers have done this as Googled threatened to penalize those that didn’t. That’s probably incentive enough.

"Much as retailers first looked at e-commerce as analogous to another "store," the business case for mobile is quite compelling and at this point, with the U.S. over-stored, mobile is the best location available."
"Attention retailers: the trend you’re seeing now is the future. If you think Millennials are glued to the phone, think about how the kids they babysat will behave. The over-storing of the ’80s could turn into the real estate bust of the 2020s."

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