More consumers are using smartphones and tablet computers to help them shop this holiday season, and more stores and shopping centers are rushing to meet them there.
An estimated 15 percent of U.S. consumers visiting a retailer’s web site this month will use a mobile device, up from 4.2 percent in October a year ago, IBM Coremetrics says in a fourth annual report, based on its analytics from more than 500 retail sites. Boosting traffic this holiday season: the fast growth of Android-based smartphones and tablet computers such as the iPad, says John Squire, chief strategy officer of IBM Smarter Commerce.
Consumers are using mobile devices to search for store locations, compare prices and promotions, check product availability, read reviews, check the digital gift lists of family and friends, and buy, industry people say.
“The consumer has an entire store in their hands,” Squire says.
Mobile applications are one of a number of digital tools retailers and shopping centers increasingly are deploying. Against an uncertain backdrop for overall retail this holiday season, online sales are expected to surge, and Coremetrics estimates mobile devices accounted for 9.6 percent of online sales in October, up from 3.4 percent a year earlier.
Mobile platforms also dovetail with consumers’ and retailers’ increasing use of social media sites like Facebook to reach each other.
Simon Malls, the Indianapolis property company that owns Grapevine Mills, North East Mall, the Galleria Dallas, and Irving Mall, launched an Apple mobile app a year ago that integrates the Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare social networks. Shoppers can use the app to check their Simon gift card balances, find their cars in the parking lot, and view events and promotions at local malls.
In September, Simon launched an app for Android devices.
Les Morris, a spokesman for Simon, says the company doesn’t disclose specific figures on total downloads, “but we’re well into the six figures” and he says the Simon app consistently is among the top 100 free lifestyle apps in Apple’s iTunes store.
In the last year, Simon malls have also launched Mobile Shopper Clubs, where shoppers can sign up to receive text message updates. Grapevine Mills reports nearly 3,000 consumers have signed up, North East Mall, more than 2,000.
Grapevine Mills recently used its mobile platforms and social networking sites to announce Santa’s arrival and promote a $3 coupon against the price of photo packages, which start at $19.95.
For this week’s Black Friday shopping, Simon will use mobile and social networks to let shoppers know about mall hours, deals, giveaways, and other events.
“At certain times that night, you’ll be able to register for prizes worth up to $500,” Peggy Weaver, the Grapevine Mills general manager, said.
Holly Conner, North East Mall marketing director, said her mall will be promoting 60-70 offers Black Friday offers from the various stores. The mall will start publicizing the offers at midnight on the digital platforms. Shoppers who don’t have mobile devices can pick up hard copies at the mall, she noted.
Squire, of IBM Coremetrics, says he expects retailers to increasingly use what they know about their shoppers to deliver a “hyperpersonalized” experience and offers over mobile platforms, including free shipping, highly important to online and mail order shoppers..
Collaborative features such as shopper ratings, reviews, and gift wish lists will be popular, he said.
Ratings and reviews “are difficult to get in the store from a sales associate, but on a mobile device, all of those wonderful things are available on the web site,” Squire said.
And of wish lists, “consumers can go in and find out what is the best gift for kids under $40,” he said. “What’s the wisdom of the crowds for gifting this season? That’s a place where the mobile device can be invaluable.”
A Deloitte annual survey of more than 5,000 consumers in September found 27 percent of smartphone users expected to use their devices for holiday shopping this year. Sixty seven percent expected to use them to search for store locations, 59 percent to compare prices, and 46 percent to check product availability.
Closely related, 44 percent said they expected to use social media to find discounts and read reviews, among other things.
Half of retailers, meanwhile, said in a recent Shop.org survey that they’ve “significantly invested” in mobile-optimized web sites; 19.6 said they’ve invested in tablet apps; and 35.3 percent said they’ve invested in QR barcodes in offline advertising, such as magazine ads and billboards.
Of those that regularly deploy social networking sites, 72.5 percent said they’ve invested in their Facebook pages ahead of the holidays and 41.2 percent in their Twitter accounts.
Even so, retailers have less time to close the deal over the mobile platforms than they do with consumers sitting in front of their PCs.
Coremetrics’ research shows consumers spend an average 3.5 minutes on a retailer’s site they’re visiting from a mobile device, compared to seven minutes from a PC.
Squire said the mobile average should rise with consumers’ increasing use of tablets; those shoppers are spending more time than smartphone users during visits to retail sites.
He attributes that to factors such as larger screen size, the “fairly rich shopping experience” that comes over a tablet, and a consumer demographc “that appears to be great shoppers.”
Some segments may do better than others with mobile platforms.
“Department stores have spent a lot of time investing in (mobile) technology, they’ve invested in promotions and free shipping,” Squire said.
Health and beauty, while “probably not as challenged by the pricing,” has done a good job of building consumer loyalty and mobile platforms, he said.
J.C. Penney has increasingly been making use of mobile platforms, launching its first mobile app in August 2009, first mobile coupons in fall 2009, and mobile commerce site m.jcp.com last fall.
This holiday season, Penney is offering free digital Santa Tags with purchase. The tags come with QR codes that consumers can scan and use to record personal voice messages with their gift; the recipient scans the code to hear the message. The Gizmodo gadget site has already panned the idea, saying, “as an alternate idea, why not try using your phone’s pre-installed phone app to simply call the person on Christmas morning?”
Penney shoppers can also text “JOIN” to JCP365, receive mobile coupons and enter a drawing for a $10,000 shopping spree. New this year, Penney shoppers can use their mobile devices to adopt an angel from the Salvation Angel Tree at jcp.com/angel and the m.jcp.com site.
Penney is using Foursquare – the location-based site that retailers can use to reward shoppers for “check-ins” – to shoot out digital holiday coupons. Between 4 a.m. and 1 p.m. Black Friday, the company will donate $25 to the Salvation Army for each Foursquare check-in at one of its stores, for up to a total $100,000.
And Penney has updated its iPhone, Android, and iPad apps to let consumers shop store ads using their mobile devices, and buy online using them.
Scott Nishimura, (817) 390-7808, Scott Nishimura
MOBILE SALES SNAPSHOT
- More iPad market share: IBM Coremetrics estimates 6.8 percent of web traffic from consumers using iPads resulted in sales in October, compared to 3.6 percent for other mobile devices.
- Short attention span: Mobile shoppers are much more likely to be looking for one item when they visit a retailer’s site, and to leave without moving beyond that one page: 44.2 percent for mobile, compared to 37.3 percent for other online shoppers.
- Social influence growing: 9.2 percent of consumers who visited a retail site from a social networking site made a purchase, compared to 5.5 percent from all web shopping.
- Facebook dominant: In October, FB accounted for 77 percent of all traffic on retail sites from social networks.
- Average ticket: IBM Coremetrics says it’ll be analyzing average ticket for smartphone, tablet, and traditional online shopping this holiday season.
Source: IBM Coremetrics