Mobile users are not just migrating their media consumption and online buying habits from the desktop to devices. The relationship between the emerging and more personal platforms and the desktop are more nuanced than that. All of those so-called mobile moments are not necessarily subtracting from desktop media time; they are actually helping to expand the amount of time that people spend with media overall. Something similar appears to be true when it comes to e-commerce as well.
According to a new eMarketer report, mobile shopping overall is helping to increase the share of retail sales that are occurring online. The research company says that in 2013, 15% of online retail sales will be occurring on mobile devices -- particularly with tablets. This number is up substantially from only 11% last year. But expect rapid acceleration so that mobile devices will account for a full quarter of online commerce by 2017. M-commerce sales will hit $39 billion this year.
eMarketer believes that mobile commerce is not just replacing some traditional e-commerce by moving the same purchase onto devices -- it is also helping to drive overall growth in e-commerce. Both smartphones and tablets give people more reason and opportunity than just the desktop and laptop to buy online. They extend the opportunities into situations where impulse buying might be more likely and effectively extends the shopping day beyond both desktop and store.
While we continue wrongly to collapse both smartphones and tablets under the rubric of “mobile,” the metrics clearly indicate that tablets are at the heart of the shift in e-commerce habits. Only about 35% of M-commerce sales are coming from smartphones, and that share will fall to 27% by 2017. By that time, 78% of U.S. tablet owners will be making purchases on that device. In five years, the share of digital buyers using tablets to make purchases will be up to 69.6% compared to 49.9% who will be smartphone buyers.
The idea that mobile commerce is expanding the e-commerce pie and not just moving existing habits to different platforms is a compelling one. For retailers, it opens up new niches of opportunity into which they can expand. For instance, just as a retailer places items strategically around the store to capture attention at different times (such as at checkout for impulse buying), why shouldn’t a retailer’s tablet and smartphone apps and sites target their product mix for different user moods and modes? Understanding that mobile devices can expand and grow areas of sales and not merely shift them to another device helps retailers reimagine how they want to package and position their inventory to optimize the mix against the device in the circumstance.
I’m skeptical about the predictions about tablet growth and tablet commerce. I do think tablet penetration will grow but at the expense of desktop/laptop computers. Most tablet internet usage is done in the home – connected to the home-based network. Smartphones will continue to be the dominant access point to the internet while out of home/work.