Since the iPhone came out in 2007, smartphones have quickly permeated almost every facet of our lives. It’s hard to think about life before we had mobile computers in our pockets all the time.
This proliferation of smartphones and tablets has created numerous changes in society already; now, in 2019, we are going to hit another significant milestone. In just 12 years, the smartphone has gone from a luxury gadget to the preferred method of shopping online.
Yes, for the first time, ever, more people will do their shopping from a mobile device than a desktop or other computer. To help celebrate this achievement, we want to take a look back at how we got here, as well as analyze what this means for the world of e-commerce (and beyond).
By the Numbers: How Mobile Shopping Has Grown Over the Years
If we want to put this record-breaking event into context, we need to understand how mobile shopping, or m-commerce, has become so integral to our daily lives.
Back in 2015, mobile usage already started to outpace time spent on a computer, but shopping still happened on a desktop or laptop. While users were spending 59 percent of their time on a smartphone, they were shopping 85 percent of the time on a computer.
In 2016, holiday shopping on mobile devices became big business, as 35 percent of consumers paid for items on a smartphone, compared to 15 percent on a tablet and 55 percent on a computer.
The following year, in 2017, just over a third of all e-commerce sales came from mobile devices (34.5 percent).
Now, in 2019, 52 percent of shoppers will make purchases from a smartphone, compared to 43 percent on a computer and just 5 percent on a tablet. In only four years, mobile shopping went from being a novelty to becoming the norm. According to most experts, m-commerce will account for up to 54 percent of all e-commerce sales by 2021. Who knows where that will go in the next decade?
Why Shoppers Are Turning to Smaller Screens
Looking at data is only one piece of the puzzle – the more vital question is why shoppers are turning to mobile devices to make purchases. Let’s look at a few of the top reasons for this growing trend.
Mobile Devices Enhance the Shopping Experience
Before smartphones came along, you had to put a lot of trust into a new product. It wasn’t comfortable or conducive to research on the fly. You couldn’t look up reviews, compare prices with other stores (including digital storefronts), and see what people were saying about a particular brand.
Now, with a computer in your pocket, you can do all of that and more. Feel like the price is too high? Take a picture of the item and see who else is selling it. Want to check if the product is in stock in another size or color? You can do that, too (with some stores).
Not only can you do all of that, but finding new retailers is much easier, thanks to apps like Google Maps. Users can let the search engine help them locate new shops, restaurants, and other stores quickly and accurately, complete with a synopsis, photos, and reviews.
Overall, having a smartphone means that you become a savvy shopper, meaning that you are much more discerning about where you go and what you buy.
Bigger Screens, Better Displays
One of the reasons why mobile shopping wasn’t too big at the end of the last decade is that large-screen smartphones weren’t the norm yet. Shoppers didn’t have the advantage of a high-definition screen to view products online, so it was still better to do everything on a laptop or desktop computer.
These days, many smartphones have generously-sized screens, and they are all in extra high-definition, so pictures look more beautiful than ever before. Also, it’s much easier to read the fine print when you can zoom in and get a closer look.
Another problem that mobile users faced in the early days is that most retail websites were still designed for computer screens. This aspect ratio meant that text was incredibly small, you had to zoom in to click on a button, and you could accidentally close out or go back a page without realizing it.
Fortunately, because m-commerce has become such an integral part of the shopping experience, almost all businesses are optimized for mobile devices. Also, web-building services like WordPress and Wix enable new companies and brands to keep up with everyone else, ensuring that all e-commerce stores are mobile-ready.
As shopping on a smaller device becomes easier and as involved as doing so on a computer, it makes sense that consumers would adapt accordingly. Not only that, but mobile optimization can capitalize on that “I want it” factor. Rather than having to wait until you get home, now you can buy a product instantly with your smartphone.
Young Customers Are Comfortable With Smartphones
When you look at the data, consumers within the 18-44 range are more likely to use a mobile device for shopping. Sixty-five percent of users 18-24, 63 percent of those 25-34, and 58 percent of those 35-44.
Because younger generations are growing up with technology and smaller screens, they are using these devices for everything, including shopping. Why waste time with a computer when you can do everything with a phone? Young people have already adapted to smartphone culture, so it makes sense that they would boost m-commerce sales accordingly.
What Does This Milestone Mean for Retailers?
Now that we’ve crossed the threshold, no business can ignore the power of mobile optimization and mobile marketing. If retailers want to be competitive now and into the future, they need to embrace a few standards, such as:
Optimize for Mobile First
Typically speaking, you build a website on the computer and then convert it to a mobile-ready platform. However, as more and more consumers are utilizing smartphones for everyday interactions and purchases, retailers will need to take a mobile-first approach.
What this really means is that businesses will need to seek out new ways to enhance the mobile buying experience. It’s no longer enough to have an “optimized” website. Brands need to make their pages much more engaging and interactive. In fact, some customers will never see a desktop version.
Focus on Local SEO
While businesses are already working on SEO-friendly pages, they need to start putting more of their attention on local markets. Even national or multinational brands will have to focus on local SEO tactics to help drive customers into storefronts or to a mobile shopping platform.
As recently as 2016, Google reported that foot traffic into brick-and-mortar retailers had dropped by 57 percent, while the value of each visit had tripled in the same period. Fewer people were going in to browse and “look around.” Instead, those who did enter the store were most likely ready to buy.
Local SEO can help facilitate that kind of shopping. Rather than the old method of trying to increase traffic as much as possible, the best solution is to ensure that everyone who comes in wants to buy something.
Utilize Mobile Marketing
Although more businesses are recognizing the potential of mobile ads, the industry is still in its infancy. Brands need to capitalize on a variety of marketing tools for smartphones, including:
- Localized Push Notifications – ping a potential customer whenever they are within a certain distance of your store (i.e., two blocks away).
- Text Deals – make offers and discounts available through texts. Also, these can be exclusive deals, further driving traffic.
- Proprietary Apps – rather than forcing a customer to visit your store, enable that person to shop via mobile with an app. Not only can you control these interactions better, but you can increase your bottom line as well.
- Social Media – most consumers use mobile devices for social interactions, so you can create mobile-friendly content to share with your followers.
Where Does E-Commerce Go From Here?
Realistically, there will be a point when mobile shopping will plateau. Just because it’s trending upward doesn’t mean it will eventually become 100 percent of all e-commerce sales. However, that being said, it likely won’t go back down, either.
Because of this, retailers will need to start rethinking their marketing and sales strategy. They need to understand how consumers are utilizing smartphones to make purchases and adapt accordingly.
Brands like Adidas are already making waves by incorporating mobile devices into the in-store experience. Shoppers can scan an item and see if it’s in stock, as well as order it using the “bring it to me” feature. Augmented reality can further make mobile shopping in-store even more engaging and appealing.
Overall, businesses will have to find creative ways to leverage the proliferation of smartphones to their advantage. As more and more consumers start relying on mobile devices for shopping, the demand for mobile-friendly content and efficiency will also rise.