After a few years of articles and conference sessions that predicted, “This is the Year of Mobile Commerce,” it’s evident m-commerce finally arrived in 2010.
M-commerce wasn’t quite the same buzz phrase as social media was in 2009, but mobile may have influenced more sales this year than Facebook, Twitter and blogs combined.
In November, research firm IDI Retail Insights released a study that m-commerce may make up 28% of holiday spending. That did not mean $127 billion of the $477 billion in sales this holiday season would transact on smart phones, but that consumers would use their smart phones to find product information, ratings and reviews and to comparison shop as well.
And if you think about it, with merchants like Amazon and Target offering barcode scanners as a part of their mobile apps, consumers could hypothetically shop online while standing in your store.
Mobile was starting to make inroads with consumers in 2009, according to speakers at the Internet Retailer Web Design and Usability Conference in February.
In its fiscal year 2009, which ended Feb. 28, 2009, 6.5 million users accessed BestBuy.com on a mobile device. John Thompson, general manager of electronics retailer BestBuy.com, said then that for fiscal 2010, the site was accessed by 17 million mobile users.
Though retailers from Best Buy to food gifts merchant King Arthur Flour told the show’s audience that their analytics showed proof of mobile commerce adoption by their customers, a reader’s survey conducted by Multichannel Merchant showed the opposite.
The survey, conducted earlier this year, found that 79.4% of respondents are not using m-commerce. A scant 6.5% did say they have a mobile site, and 6.1% said they have an iPhone app.
What was the hold-up with mobile? Jay Scannell, vice president-Internet technology at SkyMall, said at the IRWD conference that carriers were not keeping up with demand in an era of 3G iPhones, BlackBerrys and Androids.
In May, Halley Silver, director of online services at King Arthur Flour, said the iPhone was a game-changer for most merchants in terms of going mobile. And when Apple started selling the iPad, Silver started seeing evidence that her customers were using the mobile touch-screen device to access recipes, read the blog and buy product.
Sears said at the Internet Retailer Conference and Exposition in June that it was having success with the mobile channel because it knew it was more than just a selling tool.
Imran Jooma, president of e-commerce for Sears Holdings, said that m-commerce needs to be used to compliment and connect the existing customer channels. One reason that gap has been bridged is consumer adoption of social media on mobile devices. With consumers sharing their purchase patterns and wish lists on Facebook and Twitter, their friends are clicking on these links while surfing their social networks on their phones, Jooma said.
Geerlings & Wade (which was rebranded as a part of WineTasting.com by parent company 1-800-Flowers.com this fall) launched an m-commerce channel in May. Chris Edwards, the merchant’s general manager, said he saw evidence in its analytics that indicated users were accessing its site via mobile browsers.
And when Edwards called and emailed customers if they would access the site from their mobile device, the majority answered yes.
Speaking in October at the Mobile Shopping Summit in New York, Century Novelty vice president and general manager Ian MacDonald said the company decided it needed a mobile site in August after attending sessions about mobile shopping at a trade show.
MacDonald, who is now director of ecommerce at The Pond Guy, said he didn’t think mobile was a great idea because Century Novelty sells a lot of items with a $1 price point. But they looked at the analytics and determined they’d done $20,000 in sales through mobile devices this year. That’s not a lot, but MacDonald said its proof people are shopping with their phones.
Invitation-only e-commerce site Rue La La president-member marketing Stephanie Brocum spoke at the same show, and said m-commerce works, if done right, for merchants with quick calls to action.
Brocum said that Rue La La creates excitement daily by putting out limited-time sale announcements daily at 11 a.m. for discounted luxury goods. The mobile channel means Rue La La members don’t have to be tethered to a computer at that time to find out what the deal of the day is.
Brocum said 10% of Rue La La’s total sales come from mobile, and that the majority come from apps. The iPhone tops its list, followed by the iPad, Android and Blackberry in terms of sales by app. An increased focus on mobile could push Rue La La’s mobile sales to 20% of its total business by the end of this year, Brocum said.
But for all that’s good for merchants in the mobile space, they still have a long way to go in the channel. The E-tailing Group’s First Annual Mobile Commerce Mystery Shopping Study, conducted in the third quarter, showed that merchants are doing some things right with mobile – but the overall experience needs improvement.
For one thing, mobile merchants are helping customers find a store, contact customer service and make a purchase. But they aren’t helping consumers check a store for product availability, search for a product or buy a gift.
The E-tailing Group’s secret shoppers benchmarked 150 metrics on 50 mobile websites in 13 product categories. Each of the sites was tested on an iPhone, and 25 of the sites were also tested for Blackberry compatibility.