Mobile E-commerce Exploded This Holiday Season

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Jordan Elkind, head of customer advocacy, Custora
Jordan Elkind, head of customer advocacy, Custora

Potentially lost among the many well-publicized e-commerce landmarks from the 2013 holiday shopping season—like Cyber Monday representing the largest e-commerce shopping day in U.S. history—was an astounding shift in the retail landscape.

Mobile shopping is all grown up, and it's here to stay.

By any measure, mobile and tablet usage exploded during the holiday season. To cite just one telling metric: From Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday in 2012, 25% of e-commerce site visits came from mobile phones and tablet devices. In 2013 this number jumped to over 40% for the same time period. This is based on data from Custora Pulse, a real-time e-commerce dashboard aggregating transaction data from more than 100 U.S. retailers.

And all these visits aren't just customers browsing for a quick price comparison. One out of every four purchases made between Black Friday and Cyber Monday was made using a phone or a tablet. (In 2012, that number was less than one in five.) Specifically, Black Friday was “Mobile Friday,” with almost 40% of online shopping done on phones and tablets.

Overall, for the 2013 holiday season—November 1 to December 29—mobile devices accounted for 30% of transactions, up from 20% in 2012. And according to Amazon, half of its customers shopped using a mobile device this holiday season.

Now that phones and tablet have indisputably established their presence as part of the e-commerce landscape, smart e-commerce marketers will be looking for ways to connect with these shoppers in 2014.

So for retailers looking to win the mobile war, here are some data-driven lessons from the 2013 holiday season:

Keep focusing on iOS. Mobile marketers have long recognized that iPhone and iPad customers tend to drive a disproportionate share of e-commerce value amongst mobile and tablet users. (This is most frequently attributed to the high price point of Apple products, which tend to disproportionately attract affluent shoppers.) And it's still largely true that marketers should be keeping their eye squarely on iOS users. During the holiday season iPhone users accounted for 83% of mobile purchases, while iPad accounted for over 90% of tablet purchases. However, the gap is shrinking: Android took small year-over-year bites into Apple's purchase share on both the mobile and tablet fronts, up from 13% of mobile purchases in 2012 to 17% this year. But for marketers looking to refine and optimize their apps, the best bet is to focus on iOS.

Prepare for total device convergence. One way to analyze how customers are shopping is to look at the average spend, or average order value (AOV) of purchases across different devices. During the 2012 holiday season the AOV of tablet purchases was about 20% higher than that of phones. In 2013 tablet AOV declined slightly while mobile AOV increased, shrinking this gap to less than 10%—and bringing the AOV of mobile devices nearly neck-and-neck with that of desktop purchases. One possible explanation for this change is that as mobile interfaces and apps get more sophisticated, shoppers feel more comfortable buying big-ticket items on their phones. At the same time, the introduction of lower-priced (and smaller-screen) tablet models has led to a more varied user base and more casual shopping behavior.

What's the upshot for e-commerce marketers? Remember that shoppers are increasingly seeking (and expecting) a single, seamless brand experience across all of their devices. And don't restrict featured product assortment for mobile apps to just lower-end categories or bargain-basement products. Mobile customers are branching into pricier categories—and are increasingly receptive to in-app or onsite product recommendations and cross-selling.  

Keep looking for ways to optimize conversion. As mobile and tablet devices have become more mainstream, they've attracted a more diverse shopper set. Now it's not just savvy early adopters and digital natives who are browsing on the go; it's grandparents. And it looks like new adopters may not be as comfortable actually purchasing on their device—even as visits have exploded the conversion rate for mobile and tablet actually slipped between holiday 2012 and holiday 2013, by roughly 5% for mobile and roughly 10% for tablets. During the same time the conversion rate for desktop actually increased. Desktop conversion is now about 25% higher than tablet and almost 90% higher than mobile. The upshot? Marketers need to keep looking for ways to make the sales and checkout process on their mobile sites intuitive, secure, and easy-to-navigate.

The holiday season showed us that mobile and tablet users are the new norm for e-commerce and the next frontier for digital marketers. Connecting with these shoppers represents arguably the single biggest opportunity for savvy marketers to position themselves for success in 2014.

Jordan Elkind is head of customer advocacy at Custora
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