Just How Important Are Mobile Shoppers? Come April 21, We Will Find Out


Erika Morphy, Contributor

March 30, 2015

Shortly before Valentine’s Day this year, Jay Henderson, director of strategy for IBM Commerce, was in a meeting and decided to make a quick purchase for his wife from his smartphone. It was a pair of earrings embedded with blue stones and diamonds from a local jeweler that he knew she had been eyeing.

And just like that, he became a symbol of a growing trend that, ironically enough, IBM Commerce would go on to chronicle a few days later.

Namely, according to IBM’s Digital Analytics Benchmark report, total online sales of jewelry grew 5.1 percent in the weeks leading up to this year’s Valentine’s Day over 2014. The eye-opener, though, was the stat about mobile sales. Those had grown 53.2 percent year-over-year.

“Generally speaking, high-end jewelry is not the kind of category that folks feel intuitively comfortable buying online, much less from a mobile device,” Henderson says.

But that, clearly, is rapidly changing along with other attitudes to mobile commerce.

A separate study from comScore published in Internet Retailer, for example, shows that the number of people who only shop via their mobile device is a growing force in e-commerce. 10% of U.S. Internet users now only access the Internet on mobile devices, according to comScore January 2015 data.

Some stores, such as Target and Wal-Mart, are finding that more than half of their online sales are coming from mobile-only digital shoppers, at 53 percent and 51 percent, respectively.

Here Comes Google

Now here comes Google, which is about to light a fire under this already hot trend. On April 21, the search engine giant will roll out a major algorithm change that will count a website’s “mobile friendliness” in its ranking criteria.

Even though Google has been incorporating mobile into its search criteria, this particular algorithm is a very big deal, according to an column by Jayson DeMers at Entrepreneur.

He writes that:

Zineb Ait Bahajji, a member of Google’s Webmaster Trends team, was quoted at SMX Munich as saying that the new mobile-friendly algorithm change will have more of an impact on search rankings than either Panda or Penguin, two of the largest and most impactful search algorithm updates Google has ever launched.

For now, we don’t know much about the update itself, so it’s not entirely clear what that impact will be. We do know that it will change the way Google evaluates the mobile-friendliness of websites, but we don’t know what new factors will be added or how dramatically these factors will be able to change a website’s search visibility. Given Bahajji’s comments, it’s reasonable to guess that the majority of non-optimized sites on the web could see significant decreases in search visibility.

Retailers, no surprise at all, have been scrambling to mobilize their websites if they hadn’t made moves in this direction before the February announcement by Google.

Which is fine, of course – consumers clearly are buying more and more products via their devices as IBM, comScore and a slew of other studies have shown.

What About the 90 Percent?

But, to go back to comScore’s numbers, if 10 percent of consumers are only shopping via their mobile devices that means, of course, that 90 percent are taking any number of paths to the purchase. What about them?

For example, back to Valentine’s Day: according to International Council of Shopping Centers research, a large portion of the big day’s purchases would occur in brick-and-mortar stores: 89 percent of chocolate/candies, 88 percent of cards/decorations, 74 percent of flowers and 70 percent of jewelry – all snapped up in a brick-and-mortar establishment.

Even consumers making online purchases found themselves in the stores at the end, according to the association – 64 percent of online jewelry purchases were expected to be picked up in-store, along with 67 percent of chocolate/candies and 51 percent of flowers.

Then there is new research from Marin Software, which found that while consumers are clearly using mobile devices for product research, they still make most purchases on desktops. Marin concludes that retailers should adopt cross-channel advertising strategies to reach consumers across devices and platforms.

This is not to say that Google’s algorithm change will hinder, in theory, retailers investments in these other channels. But the algorithm change will surely have some kind of impact or influence on where retailers’ devote their resources and IT budgets are not exactly elastic. Whether a focus on mobile is right for all retailers in all product categories is debatable. But given that this is Google speaking, we won’t be having that particular debate.

This article was written by Erika Morphy from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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