Turning mobile shoppers into mobile buyers

Fresh data from a couple of sources last week confirmed what we already knew: that mobile devices are changing the way we shop. Amazon said more than half its customers used smartphones or tablets to browse or buy goods during the holiday season, generating an estimated $20 billion in sales. And IBM reported mobile users accounted for 48 percent of all online traffic on Christmas Day (up 28 percent from last year) and 29 percent of all online sales (up 40 percent from last year).

Different devices, different uses

But a closer look at IBM’s data reveals that we’re smartphones and tablets in very different ways. While smartphone drove substantially more traffic than tablets – 28.5 percent of all traffic on Christmas Day compared to 18 percent – more than twice as many sales we conducted on tablets than on smartphones. (And that’s despite the fact that smartphone penetration is more than three times higher than tablet penetration worldwide.) Additionally, the average purchase of tablet users was $95.61, ten dollars higher than the average purchase of smartphone users.

There are several obvious reasons for that discrepancy: The cellular connectivity and portability of smartphones make them a better device for showrooming than tablets, which frequently offer only Wi-Fi connectivity. Meanwhile, the bigger screens of tablets provide a much better experience for shoppers to examine merchandise closely and enter credit card numbers and other information necessary to complete a transaction. And consumers are probably more comfortable making purchases from the couch — where they’re more likely to use a tablet — than on the subway or in a restaurant, where smartphones are used far more often than tablets.

Step one: Building a mobile-optimized site

I think the gap between sales conversion rates on the two devices will narrow as the popularity of bigger smartphones – I just can’t call them “phablets” – increases. Customers will grow more accustomed to buying goods over their phones, just as they’ve grown accustomed to accessing their bank accounts and surrendering location information. Ever-evolving smartphones and the continued build-out of 4G networks will continue to make it easy for users to make purchases on the mobile web quickly and securely.

But retailers can boost sales to smartphone users by taking a few key steps: Operating a website optimized for smartphones is a crucial first step, as evidenced by recent data from the ecommerce platform Branding Brand. A good retail mobile site should load quickly, automatically log users into their accounts, and make it easy for users to find what they’re looking for with just a few clicks. Mobile sites and apps should leverage online social networks to direct users to the most popular new items, and to enable customers to virally market for them. And as this recent Mashable post urges, retailers’ mobile ads should use deep links that deliver consumers directly to the page where they can buy a product rather than a simple home page or site where they can download an app.

Smartphone users are clearly going to the mobile web to find specific kinds of products, discover new items and compare prices. That traffic should be low-hanging fruit for any retailer looking to boost its online sales.