May 15, 2013, 9:49 AM

Forrester Research paints a vivid picture of the typical mobile shopper

A new report warns retailers not to underinvest in these consumers.

Bill Siwicki

Managing Editor, Mobile Commerce

Lead Photo

More consumers research purchases on mobile devices than buy via the devices, finds a new report from Forrester Research Inc. Only 13% of U.S. online adults with a mobile phone say they have used it to purchase a product, according to the report, “How U.S. Consumers Shop on Mobile Devices.” That figure is 30% for tablet owners.

The barriers to mobile purchasing include web sites that are not optimized for mobile, concerns over the security of mobile payments and patchy wireless connections, Forrester says. As a result, the average mobile site’s conversion rate is only 1% compared with 2% to 3% on a PC, the firm adds.

Instead of making purchases, 37% of U.S. online adult tablet owners and 14% of online adult mobile phone owners are using their devices to research products and prepare to make a purchase. U.S. online consumers are also using their devices to read customer product reviews (tablet 28%, mobile phone 10%), locate a store and check store hours (tablet 17%, mobile phone 16%), and check product availability online (tablet 16%, mobile phone 7%).

When it comes to the products and services that consumers are buying on their mobile devices, they mirror the categories that early e-commerce shoppers used: 22% of mobile shoppers buy apparel, 21% pick up event tickets and 20% make hotel reservations. The average mobile shopper spent just under $90 via mobile in the past three months, Forrester finds.

Mobile shoppers are likely to be young, male and financially sound, the report says. A slight majority of mobile shoppers are male, and they are, on average, in their mid-30s. Two out of three have a full-time job, 40% earn more than $100,000 per year, and one-third have children under 18 living at home. Conversely, online adults who aren’t mobile shoppers are more likely to be female and are typically nine years older than their mobile shopping counterparts. More than one-quarter are empty nesters whose children have left home, and a good proportion of them either earn less than $49,000 per year or are retired.

Consumers looking to make purchases on their mobile phones from chain retailers prefer optimized versions of retailer web sites to mobile apps, Forrester says. However, the apps of online-only retailers are actually more popular shopping channels than the mobile web: 36% of U.S. mobile shoppers use web-only merchants’ apps compared with 31% who favor mobile commerce web sites.

As mobile retail activities and revenues have grown, retailers have been slow out of the blocks with their mobile strategies and budgets, the report says. For example, 18 out of 43 retailers Forrester surveyed for its State of Retailing Online 2012 report still had no employees dedicated to mobile. “Investment in phones and tablets is still in the early stages,” that report concludes.

“Luckily for e-business professionals, mobile is a marathon rather than a sprint,” the “How U.S. Consumers Shop on Mobile Devices” report says. “The convenience that mobile offers to consumers in the form of immediacy, simplicity and context translates into an opportunity that stretches beyond pure mobile retail sales: Next-generation mobile services will focus on customer engagement, multi-touchpoint sales and loyalty. Just as they are taking a risk by placing their bets too early, retailers run an equal risk of underinvesting in mobile."

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