It’s no longer a question of whether or not consumers will adopt mobile as an interaction and transaction channel this holiday shopping season. Over the last year, mobile has proven itself to be a viable channel that will play an increasingly prevalent role this year and in future years.
Case in point: mobile retail set records this holiday shopping season with 16 percent of all online sales being conducted through a mobile device -- compared to 9.8 percent last year. In addition, 24 percent of consumers use a mobile device to visit a retailer’s site, up from 14.3 percent in 2011. Whether it’s a tablet, an iPhone, or an Android, consumers are researching more products and making more purchases than ever before through their mobile devices. A full overview of the IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark Cyber Monday data, which is a cloud-based web analytics platform that tracks more than a million e-commerce transactions a day, analyzing terabytes of raw data from 500 retailers nationwide, can be found here.
Why the mobile push? For consumers, it’s about convenience, efficiency, and accessibility, whether shopping online or in-store. Some traditional brick-and-mortar retailers, however, are still wary of mobile and hesitant to bridge ecommerce mobile initiatives with the in-store experience. That attitude has to change in order for these retailers to keep pace with the multiscreen, digital consumer. Today, four in 10 smartphone users search for an item and research prices while they’re right in the store.
In two recent instances in public forums, I’ve heard eBusiness executives talking about some rather disturbing uses of personal data. One was the CTO of a large big-box retailer who raised the possibility that health insurance companies could track our food purchases, sending dissuading texts to us whenever we chose to eat at greasy spoons or Burger King. Another was a software CEO who said it was inevitable that our cars would send real-time data on our speeds to our car insurance agencies. Laughter ensued from the audiences, but it should have been alarm and shock. I find it hard to believe that the good that could come from sharing this sort of data with companies (which, I would argue, don’t exactly have a reputation for benevolence) would outweigh the potential for abusing the data. Even in the retail world, there are a lot of companies trying to match users across different devices based on their IP addresses to create profiles of behavior. Call it lighter versions of the FBI “forensics” that took down David Petreaus. (Btw, Paula Broadwell has been a friend of mine for years and is one of the nicest, smartest, and most generous people I know. An issue that’s been overlooked is the violation of her privacy that kicked off this whole scandal. For the record, because people have asked me, I think she's been unfairly attacked at best and irreparably slandered at worst with digital information that should have never made its way to the light of day. I just hope she gets the last laugh when Angelina Jolie plays her in the movie.)
As mobile Internet use has grown, so has the usage of smartphones in stores. Much of that in-store phone usage is innocuous — using store maps, for instance — but some of it is threatening to brick-and-mortar stores, particularly when shoppers use phones in stores to research prices. While "showrooming" isn't a term that many consumers know (only 16% awareness according to com Score), it's nonetheless happening.
The good news: Consumers with smartphones only “showroomed” prices in stores on average a few times in a 6-month period. Aprimo, an marketing service firm that surveyed about 2,000 consumers in October about their mobile price-checking behavior in stores for that datapoint. I suspect that amounts to a very small percent (i.e., less than 5%) of shopping visits. The bad news: That survey (and comScore's) confirmed the worst of what many in the retail industry have expected -- that showrooming is here to stay. And it hurts stores. After all, most of the showrooming shoppers told us that they usually find cheaper prices online when they research them. Some highlights:
It’s not just consumer electronics and high-ticket items like appliances for which consumers research prices in stores. In fact, the second and third most showroomed categories: grocery (!) and apparel/accessories/footwear. Yes, I was surprised by that, too.
A whole lot of people say they’ll be showrooming more in the future. In fact, the segment that’s most likely to spend the most online in the future (18- to 34-year-old men) is the group most likely to do this type of mobile price research in the future.
Forrester’s “US Online Holiday Retail Sales Forecast, 2012” launches today; in it, we predict that this November and December alone are expected to pull in $68.4 billion in online revenue, a 15% increase over 2011. We believe web retailers are well-positioned to benefit from this shopper spend if they realize that consumers are:
On the hunt for deals. More than half of US online adults are more price conscious than they were a year ago. As the Web channel has become synonymous with value, retailers should expect consumers to be searching for deals through a variety of touchpoints, at home and in-store on mobile devices. Retailers need to prepare for aggressive holiday showrooming and the possibility of being undersold or being asked for a price match.
Looking for free shipping. Fifty-seven percent of US online adults shop more with retailers that offer free shipping, and 27% add unplanned items to their cart in order to meet free shipping thresholds. Last year, 76% of the top 50 online retailers highlighted holiday deals on their home pages and 50% called out holiday shipping promotions. As price continues to be a top consideration for consumers, retailers must offer and prominently display holiday shipping promotions or risk losing customers to competitors that will.
Shopping on key dates. During the 2011 holiday season, the top 500 retail websites saw holiday traffic peak during Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, each of which drove more than 170 million unique US shoppers to the Web, and they together accounted for more than $2.5 billion in total online sales. Forrester expects that this trend will continue through 2012.