March 1, 2012, 1:24 PM

Smartphone adoption soars to 46% in February

Retailers must get m-commerce into an “omnichannel” mix, one expert says.

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46% of U.S. adults owned a smartphone in February 2012, an increase of 11 percentage points over the 35% who owned a smartphone in May 2011, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

The Pew findings mirror those of research giant Nielsen, which last week released smartphone adoption data. Nielsen says 48% of all U.S. mobile phone users own smartphones as of January 2012. That’s up from 36% in Q1 2011 and 23% in Q1 2010.

According to the Pew Research Center, 41% of U.S. adults own a mobile phone that is not a smartphone, meaning that smartphone owners are now more prevalent within the overall population than owners of more basic mobile phones.

“For several years we’ve been saying it’s ‘the year of mobile.’ It is time to put that phrase away and understand that mobile is here to stay and simply one part of an overall omnichannel strategy retailers need to embrace,” says Tom Nawara, vice president of digital strategy and design at online and mobile marketing firm Acquity Group LLC. “With smartphone penetration hovering around the key 50% inflection point, the question for retailers can no longer be, ‘Should we include mobile in our mix?’ It has to be, ‘How do we most effectively build mobile experiences into our omnichannel plans?’”

Nearly every major demographic group—men and women, younger and middle-aged adults, urban and rural residents, the wealthy and the less well-off—experienced a notable uptick in smartphone adoption during the last year, the Pew survey of 2,253 U.S. adults finds. The smartphone adoption levels for college graduates, 18-35 year olds, and those with an annual household income of $75,000 or more exceed 60%. However, seniors still lag behind. Only 13% of those age 65 and older now own a smartphone.

Increased smartphone and tablet adoption is fueling m-commerce overseas. Sales via mobile devices in the U.K. grew from 0.4% of total e-retail sales in Q4 2009 to 5.3% in Q4 2011, according to the IMRG Capgemini Quarter Benchmarking Index. IMRG, or Interactive Media in Retail Group, is a U.K. trade association. Capgemini is a global consulting firm.

What’s more, visits to U.K. online retail sites via smartphones and tablets surged to 8.2% in 2011 from 2.6% in 2010, the benchmarking index finds.

“The rise in mobile sales for this quarter is massive; this actually marks an acceleration in pace,” says Tina Spooner, chief information officer at IMRG. “This could have been influenced by Q4 covering the Christmas period, where lots of consumers would have got access to a tablet for the first time or advanced phone technology such as the iPhone 4S, which was released just toward the end of Q3. Some retailers actually reported that m-commerce sales accounted for as much as 9% of their total online sales over the festive period.”

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