June 22, 2011, 4:12 PM

One-fourth of iPhone owners and one-fifth of Android owners use m-commerce apps

Forrester Research says consumers want a unique shopping experience.

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E-retailers are discovering consumers no longer want mobile apps that mirror mobile web sites.

As smartphone use increases, more consumers are turning to mobile commerce apps to search for, browse, discover and buy products. There is considerable potential for retailers to engage and sell to these consumers, says Forrester Research Inc. in its new “The State of Mobile Commerce Apps” report.

How strong is the consumer appetite for mobile apps? Forrester says 24% of U.S. adult online iPhone users and 21% of Android users have used a shopping application in the past three months. That is a significant minority, but it is not enough to warrant a mobile investment on its own, Forrester says. “What matters is revenue, and 6% of cellphone owners in the United States report that they are already using a mobile shopping app to buy products, with a further 20% expressing an interest in doing so,” Forrester says.

Retailers are prepping for the explosive growth in mobile commerce. In February, in its 2011 Online Retail Technology Investment Outlook, Forrester said 44.4% of U.S. web retailers are investing in mobile apps; a year ago that figure was only 15.1%. While mobile apps don’t have the reach of m-commerce sites, they can provide richer, faster experiences that use the various features of a smartphone, such as data caching and GPS. Many m-commerce experts believe apps can draw retailers’ most loyal customers, who are more likely to keep an app on the mobile desktop.

Marketers are expected to invest $1 billion in mobile commerce services this year, Forrester says. On average, it cost $48,646 to build an iPhone app, Forrester says, with a similar price tag for Android apps.

All of this investment points to retailers moving beyond the experimentation stage with mobile commerce, Forrester says. Many e-commerce business leaders say the debate between using mobile apps versus a mobile web site is irrelevant, Forrester says. “’Which?’ is the wrong question, as an increasing number of companies have developed a mobile commerce strategy where apps and mobile web coexist,” Forrester says.

Forrester surveyed 68 retailers and 42,792 U.S. and Canadian households for this report.

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