Analysts Debate How Much Mobile Shopping Is Happening

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How many consumers are really using smartphones and/or tablet PCs as shopping tools this holiday season? Mobile commerce is already hot right now in places like the East and West coasts, some researchers say, and among 25-to-64-year-olds, according to another analyst report. Still others note that mobile sales accounted for just 3.18% of all Black Friday online sales this year.

In a report by IDC Retail Insights, analysts contended that two groups — hyper-connected “mobile shopping warriors” and moderately connected “mobile shopping wannabes” — are already making big impacts on the way that shopping is done.

Adults in the 25-to-44-year-old group comprise almost half of all of the “warriors,” as well as almost half the “wannabes.” The warriors use their phones to search for price and product information, compare prices in nearby shops, check merchandise availability, read reviews, and buy items from their phones, for instance.

Yet also, consumers in the 45-to-64-year-old group are the most likely of all mobile users to leverage info gained from their devices to gain some kind of shopping advantage, such as asking for “a better price to match one they find on their mobile device while in the store.”

Cars and Computers Bought from Mobile Devices, but Not Everywhere
Meanwhile, to let end users take a look at mobile shopping trends from other standpoints — such as by geographic region, time frame, and product category — eBay opened a new Web site on the Wednesday after Black Friday.

eBay Mobile Shopping GraphWhile the interactive maps and graphs pertain only to sales transactions done through eBay’s mobile phone apps, you can quickly compare m-commerce sales volumes in 20 categories of products sold on eBay, and across six different countries.

Overall results for the first week showed that sales through eBay’s mobile apps — now offered for iPads alone with iPhones, RIM BlackBerries, and Android OS phones — rose 230% from 2009 to 2010 for the time period covering the week of Thanksgiving, plus Cyber Monday.

At this point, the most recent data on the site covered the week ending December 2. Through a series of color-coded maps, shopping from smartphones and iPads appears to be very prevalent in San Francisco, New York City, and other highly populated cities along the U.S. coasts, but not in large parts of Oregon, Nevada, and the Dakotas, for example.

In drilling down into the maps a bit further, m-commerce seems to be thriving on eBay throughout England and Germany, but not so much in France and Australia except for major metro areas. In Canada, much of the mobile eBay activity appeared to be occurring along the southern border.

Regional differences cropped up in the types of goods purchased, too. In the U.S. as a whole, cars and trucks accounted for the most dollars in m-commerce purchases, followed by the categories of clothing and accessories, auto parts, sporting goods and accessories, and cell phones and accessories, in that order.

For whatever reasons, though, cell phones and accessories didn’t make the top five list in either California or Massachusetts, for instance. Computers were among the top five in both Massachusetts and New York State, but not in California. Jewelry and gemstones landed in the top five in California, Massachusetts, and New York, but not nationwide.

Slicing and Dicing the Data Differently
How much mobile shopping is actually happening, as a whole? The answer depends on which data is used, and how it’s sliced and diced. IDC analysts contend that warriors and wannabes will together account for 28% — or $127 billion — of the $447 billion that the National Retail Federation (NRF) predicts for holiday shopping this year by U.S. consumers.

However, it isn’t clear that people in these two groups will spend all of that money shopping from their mobile devices alone. It seems likely that they’ll do some of their spending in stores, or in purchases made from their PCs on non-mobile Web sites.

Separately, the NRF has estimated that 7 million Americans shopped from their smartphones or iPads on Cyber Monday, almost double the number that did so last year.

According to another report, issued by Coremetetics, mobile users accounted for only 3.18% of total Black Friday online sales and 2.25% of all online sales on Cyber Monday.

Researchers seem to agree, though, that m-commerce is on the rise. The number of mobile visitors to retail sites on Black Friday jumped 26.7% from 2009 to 2010, also according to Coremetrics.

Analysts: Quality and Performance of an M-Commerce Site Counts
Analysts also point out that the quality and performance of a mobile site makes a big difference in driving mobile users to the site.

“We believe the retailers with superior mobile and social media commerce strategies in place will have a decided advantage,” said Greg Girard, program director of retail merchandise strategies at IDC Retail Insights, in a statement.

Gomez, the Web performance division of Compuware Corp., sees correlations between Web site performance and user satisfaction levels as measured by its Gomez Retail UX (user Experience) Index.

According to this company, on Cyber Monday, “The Mobile Web provided the greatest challenge for the Top 15 retailers. The Gomez Retail UX Index declined by 6.25% compared with previous Mondays, with a majority of the 15 top mobile sites experiencing moderate or more significant decreases in the U.S. Index ratings versus previous Mondays.”

In a blog post, Gomez’ Jennifer Liharik explained that while the 15 largest retailer Web sites maintained performance levels at or above baseline throughout Cyber Monday, the same did not hold true for either the 500 largest retailer Web sites or for the top 15 mobile sites, apparently because of traffic surges.

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