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Mobile over PCs: a foregone conclusion

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Ken Johns, SVP of digital strategy, Brunner
Ken Johns, SVP of digital strategy, Brunner

In five years, will tablets and smartphones surpass PCs in e-commerce sales? Yes. And no, it's not because I have digital strategy in my title. It's because the numbers, the competition and the consumer says so. I think I can make this case with my tablet tied behind my back.

First the numbers: With smartphone sales outpacing PC sales for the first time during the last quarter of 2011 and some projections showing as many as 1.5 billion smartphone units sold in 2016, it's not hard to see how the volume of devices in hands will impact the volume of e-commerce sales.

First place in the sales race will probably go back and forth for a little while, but sooner rather than later there will be some distance between the number of smartphones sold and the number of PCs.

There are a number of factors behind this. Some are economic — smartphones are getting cheaper and bringing more to the party; while others are just plain behavioral. Smartphones are becoming appendages, personal assistants, even members of the family — at least until the next newer version comes out.

More competition for PCs: Consumers are questioning whether their next “computer” should actually be a tablet or a PC and the number of PCs sold will continue to take hits as the tablet market evolves. Also vying for consideration is the smart TV. The idea of replacing your “home computer” with a smart TV is only going to pick up steam and further erode the number and use of PCs.

The consumer: Leading up to the holidays last year, approximately 66% of people who own a smartphone “shopped” with it in some way. Now, “shopping” can mean anything from comparing and searching to locating a retailer. But if consumers are doing that, is actually buying something with their phones that far away? A comScore Mobile Retail Advisor report stated that 38% of smartphone owners have used their phone to make a purchase — and that number is only going to go up.

People are already buying things on their phones just about everywhere. That same comScore report states that 56% of the people who made a purchase with their phone did so at home, while an Ipsos and PayPal study said more than 60%. So much for the PC's home court advantage.

There is also a self-fulfilling prophecy as retailers come to embrace the idea that consumers increasingly want to buy things on their phones. Retailers will make it easier to buy on phones and then more consumers will do it. Add the increasing trend of social commerce to the mix and you have yet another huge impact on when and where they buy. The increasing amount of time “socialites” are interacting with their networks on mobile devices and the rapid pace with which brands are embracing the idea and ability to buy in that space will only add to the popularity of mobile commerce.

But here's the real kicker — the idea of mobile commerce expands well beyond buying things with your mobile device. Downloading coupons, using your Starbucks app to buy coffee, making travel arrangements on the fly, finding products while in the store, getting input from your social network on a product while staring at the display right in front of you — all of this will increasingly have an impact on “commerce.”

And the mobile device, no matter what it is, will be at the center of that ecosystem because consumers are at the center — and they never go anywhere without their phones.

Ken Johns is SVP of digital strategy at Brunner.

See what our readers had to say on this topic in the April 2012 issue.

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