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The state of mobile shopping

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We’ve heard all kinds of metaphors to refer to “mobile” – everything from “glue” and “electricity” to “connective tissue.” Whichever works for you, the point is that in just a few years, mobile devices have become a fixture in our lives. The latest Snapshot showcases data from Prosper Insights and Analytics that underscores just how important mobile devices are for shopping.

Just how pervasive is mobile shopping? Goldman Sachs projects that U.S. retail sales directly on smartphones will more than double from $70 billion this year to $173 billion by 2018. Similarly, tablet sales will more than triple from $130 billion this year to $453 billion in 2018.

Looking at how U.S. adult consumers of all ages already use these devices in their life generally as well as to shop, the numbers provide some interesting insights.

  • Among U.S. smartphone users, approximately half have consulted their phones to find store information such as location and hours.
  • Half as many again tap their smartphone when they’re browsing or looking for a product or service.
  • And while 37 percent of 18-to-34-year-olds have actually purchased a product on their smartphone, so have 29 percent of smartphone users 35-54 and 14 percent of those over 55.

These are still the early days of mobile in many respects, and we anticipate purchasing on mobile devices to become increasingly mainstream. Tablet purchases are already well established for a third of those 18-34 and nearly the same for those 55 and older. Americans  in the middle of these age ranges are currently leading at 43 percent.

For retailers, a huge opportunity exists in how consumers use their mobile devices while they’re in the store. Research shows half of shoppers regularly or occasionally read product reviews to decide between products, and almost as many have “checked in” for a discount and to request a price match. The report explores how likely consumers are to buy on the spot compared with later, and whether they buy from the same retailer or a competitor.

So what should retailers do this year to capture a share of these opportunities on mobile? More than half the retailers we surveyed named mobile as one of their top three initiatives for 2014. They certainly have their work cut out for them.

Among other areas, we recommend that retailers focus this year on:

Optimizing the tablet experience. Keynote found that a test transaction on a tablet device during Holiday 2013 on average took almost three times longer to complete on a tablet than a desktop device. Pushing a desktop optimized site to a tablet experience simply won’t cut it. Retailers need to invest in this area or risk chances of the associated revenue and customer engagement.

Connecting stores with mobile marketing. Using SMS to offer coupons to drive store traffic has met with success in tests by companies like Staples and Ace Hardware. Mobile ads can be tricky – consumers don’t want ads that are intrusive, irrelevant to them or simply overabundant. Voice recognition-enabled ads, like those running on NPR’s smartphone app this week, is one thing to watch.

Marketing customer "must have" services such as inventory stock availability. A recent study by Hybris found almost three-quarters of shoppers rate inventory visibility as “critical to their purchase decisions. If your company is one of the 32 percent of companies according to Hybris that actually offer this service, that’s a significant competitive offering that is likely to get the customer’s attention.

Members can download the new Smartphone and Tablet Shopping Snapshot to glean further data and insights into how consumers use their smartphones and tablets to shop now.