Login

Amid the blizzard of coverage about the ups and downs of retailers during the opening of the holiday season, one important angle might have been underplayed: What the undeniable move to mobile by consumers means for retailers scrambling to adjust to the new m-commerce reality. No one, of course, is arguing that the ongoing shift to mobile wasn’t part of the many analyses of the shopping patterns that played out between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday. “For the first time mobile devices drove more than half of Thanksgiving online traffic, a trend that continued throughout Cyber Week," Jay Henderson, director of IBM Smarter Commerce, said in a written statement about weekend shopping. IBM got the mobile discussion rolling. Then Walmart weighed in, announcing that Cyber Monday was its biggest day for online orders ever; and that 70 percent of its Web traffic came from mobile devices. IBM and Custora reported that compared to last year, mobile sales increased over the five days between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday by about 27 percent. (IBM says 27.2 percent. Custora says 26.4 percent.) And BloomReach’s own data showed robust growth in the percentage of e-commerce sales taking place on mobile devices. The portion of conversions made on mobile nearly doubled from last year on Cyber Monday; and it saw significant growth through much of the weekend, the numbers show. Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 6.21.32 PM But what does the dramatic shift to mobile mean for retailers -- and for consumers -- not only during the holiday shopping season, but beyond? Most broadly, it means that retailers need to evolve and rapidly, a reality many of them are aware of. When I spoke to Kathy Grannis, of the National Retail Federation over the summer, she said that stores long ago recognized that digital commerce was changing everything. Stores, for instance, started offering online Black Friday promotions years ago. “They did so because they realized there were huge amounts of people on Black Friday sitting at home instead of going to the stores, or they’d already been to their stores,” said Grannis, the NRF’s senior director of media relations. But the bigger challenge now is converting those among the growing number of mobile visitors into mobile buyers. The rate at which mobile visitors to shopping sites actually go on to make a purchase is still relatively low (particularly among smartphone users). Digital marketing consultant Andy Smith, among others, has pointed out that retailers have been slow to focus on creating a pleasant and efficient experience for mobile users. Given the smaller screens and cramped keyboards, retailers need to make it easy for consumers to find what they are looking for. And e-commerce enterprises need to arm themselves with technology that allows them to understand what their customers are doing across devices. It could be that consumers don’t see smartphones as their buying device, though the data indicates attitudes are shifting. In fact, I wonder how many shoppers among Walmart’s huge mobile customer base over the holiday weekend were looking up store addresses or running price comparisons in Walmart’s aisles or elsewhere? Why wouldn’t a retailer find a way to move those shoppers toward a purchase -- or at least make sure it can reconnect with and recognize those shoppers’ intent when they return on a laptop or desktop? The clear lesson is that consumers are becoming extremely fluid as shoppers. They are using mobile devices to seize the power in the shopping experience. They showroom and webroom. They shop where and when they want to -- and increasingly on whatever device is at hand -- sometimes literally. ourdata_edit141202 Get this: A key indicator reflecting traffic to BloomReach servers -- requests for BloomReach SNAP services -- hit its holiday weekend peak on Thanksgiving at 7:08 p.m. PST. That’s well after the holiday meal and smack in the middle of halftime during the nationally televised prime-time Thanksgiving NFL game. Talk about retailers needing to be ready when consumers are ready for them. when convert And to take a longer view of the mobile shopper, the graph above compares the distribution of mobile conversions during all of November this year and last. The peaks and valleys are about where you’d expect. But two days jump out in 2014 that didn't have the same spikes last year - Veterans Day and Cyber Monday. Could it be that as retailers kick off their holiday season earlier, shoppers are willing to proceed to checkout? And on Cyber Monday, are people comfortable enough buying on their phones that they're grabbing gifts on the way to the watercooler rather than settling in and buying on the company laptop? It’s further evidence that beneath the numbers that chart who is up and who is down in the early days of the holiday shopping season, there lies a current of change that will be evolving for years to come. Photo of mobile phone by Intel Free Press published under Creative Commons license. Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at mike.cassidy@bloomreach.com . Follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.