A record number of consumers will shop from their mobile devices this coming season, according to a forecast from IBM Coremetrics, which studies online data from 500 leading U.S. retailers. And retailers seeking to tap into that trend will be forced to adapt.
"It's going to play a big part of how consumers are buying this holiday," said John Squire, chief strategy officer of IBM Coremetrics, in an interview. "Mobile users have less patience. They are surgical shoppers. Retailers are going to have to do a really good job in targeting their messages and promotions for mobile users."
A mobile device shopper spends an average of about 4 minutes on a site, compared to a little over seven minutes for a site visit from a regular computer.
Mobile shoppers also tend to do less browsing and look at fewer products when they shop, making it more imperative for retailers to personalize messages and content to cater to such visitors.
Among the retailers that have earned plaudits for targeting mobile users are department stores including Macy's Inc. and J.C. Penney Co. All have launched apps based on streamlined pages specifically for mobile use, and fast downloads, designed as an alternative to conventional Web browsing, Squire said.
Upscale department store Saks Inc. said it will unveil its first mobile app this holiday season.
As an illustration that their online and mobile strategy has paid some dividends, the department store group has posted above-average 20 percent online sales growth in each month of the year so far. Adds Squire: "Retailers that saw these trends early have made some good bets and investments."
For the first time, the percentage of shoppers buying from their mobile phones is expected to rise above the double-digit threshold to 15 percent in November, compared to 4.5 percent in last year's holiday season, and less than 1 percent in 2009, Squire said.
In October, 9.6 percent of online shoppers made purchases through their mobile devices, up from 3.4 percent a year earlier.
It's not just department stores that are catching on. Retailers across the board, from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Home Depot Inc. to Gap Inc. and Victoria's Secret parent Limited Brands Inc. have been ramping up efforts to expand their online and mobile sales.
Sears Holdings Corp. said earlier this week that its namesake department stores and Kmart discount chain are unveiling mobile "shopping walls" located in high-traffic areas, including movie theater lobbies, airports and bus stations. The spaces will display so-called QR (quick-response) computer-generated bar-matrix codes for each featured toy so shoppers can buy directly from their smartphones.
For Sears, the trend toward online sales hits home. Sears has posted declining sales in the first and second quarters as its U.S. comparable sales dropped. In comparison, its online business unit has grown 22 percent and 30 percent in those periods respectively.
Increased mobile uses and purchases also have put extra pressure on retailers including electronics giant Best Buy Co. as consumers comparison shop from their mobile devices while in stores.
To win over consumers doing comparison shopping and encourage early buying, Wal-Mart this holiday season will match its competitors' print advertised prices between Nov. 1 and Dec. 25, a much bigger time window. The company also will match prices offered on Walmart.com if the prices are different form their store prices.
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