Retailers Are Rethinking Their Mobile Strategies

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While 91 percent of retailers have mobile strategies in place, about 44 percent say they have not optimized their mobile presence to address tablet and smartphone shoppers.

According to the Shop.org and Forrester 2012 "Mobile Commerce Survey," U.S. smartphone commerce is expected to grow from an estimated $10 billion in 2012 to $31 billion by 2016. However, mobile sales still account for a small percentage of total Web revenue for retailers—about 7 percent is the forecast for 2016.

"The form factor has everything to do with it," explains Sucharita Mulpuru, vice president and principal analyst for online and multichannel retail at Forrester Research and author of the report. She adds that a consumer's ability to shop on a smartphone can be stymied by more keystrokes and slower page load times than she would encounter on a PC or tablet.

Not that some retailers haven't mastered the mobile buying experience on iPhones and Android phones.

"When you look at the sites that do really well on mobile, like Amazon or eBay, and some of the flash sale sites, like a Gilt Groupe, or a daily deal site, like Groupon, it's because they are one-click transactions," Mulpuru points out. "People are often transacting off of the app. Their payment and their log-in information is stored, which makes it easy and seamless."

A major differentiator between Amazon and more traditional stores is consistency in purchase. "Most retailers don't have that frequency of a relationship with their customers," Mulpuru says. "Their accounts haven't already been set up…to allow them to just log in and purchase on a mobile phone."

While form factor is the key bottleneck for retailers looking to optimize their mobile experiences, it's just as much about security and simplicity. According to Nielsen's Mobile Shopping Report, online purchasing was rated as the overall favorite method of shopping by 59 percent of 3,308 respondents and the easiest and most convenient by 68 percent. Traditional brick-and-mortar stores were rated most reliable in terms of security, garnering support from 69 percent of respondents, as well as the safest, at 77 percent.

Mobile took a backseat to both online and in-store transactions, with only 38 percent of respondents calling this channel the most convenient, and an even smaller sampling—27 percent—citing it as the easiest.

Nielsen indicates that broader acceptance will simply take time.

Supporting Forrester's findings, Nielsen also found that between retail apps and Web sites, companies like Amazon and eBay reached nearly 60 percent of smartphone owners during the 2011 holiday shopping season. While smartphone owners generally preferred retail mobile Web sites to mobile apps, consumers who use mobile apps are likely to spend more time in the app than they would on a Web site.

Retailers are continuing to eye smartphones as cross-channel intermediaries, where customers can research or compare products and continue the purchase elsewhere. They are even finding that synching data feeds with third-party applications that have smartphone penetration, such as RedLaser, can be better than optimizing their own mobile apps.

A good mobile strategy looks not just at the content of a Web page, but also at how people are using the mobile Web, Mulpuru says. She adds that it's important to consider the entry points to a Web page, such as Google Maps, which might suggest a low-touch transaction in which someone is simply looking for a store location. This is in contrast to email from a mobile device, which could suggest a high-touch transaction.

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