February 28, 2014, 4:21 PM

Mobile: the sales gift that gives all year long—if retailers invest in it

Sales from mobile devices accounted for 21% total U.S. e-commerce sales this past Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the two biggest shopping days of the 2013 holiday season. Learn about what two major web and store merchants did to prepare for the rush.

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Smartphone- and tablet-wielding consumers played a big role in online shopping this past holiday season. IBM Corp., for instance, says that in the fourth quarter 2013, smartphones and tablets accounted for almost 35% of online traffic, up 40% from Q4 2012, and 16.6% of online sales, up 46% year over year.  

In fact, mobile transactions accounted for nearly 21% of total Black Friday digital sales in the United States and nearly 17% of Cyber Monday sales, according to web traffic measurement firm comScore Inc.

And the web- and store-based merchants that were prepared for the rush in mobile shoppers experienced a large boost.

Take make-up retailer Sephora, No. 132 in the 2014 Mobile 500, which ranks online retailers on their 2013 sales transacted on mobile devices, which says mobile sales exceeded expectations. “Even on Black Friday, when you’d expect most people to be (shopping) in stores, we saw a huge increase in mobile shopping; more so than on Cyber Monday,” says Johnna Marcus, director of mobile and digital store marketing at Sephora. “Given the shorter holiday season, mobile is a convenient option, and we see that (shoppers) are becoming more comfortable—going beyond browsing and actually making purchases on mobile devices.”

On Black Friday, sales via smartphones increased 300% over the same day the prior year, and 135% on Cyber Monday, Sephora says. Tablet sales jumped 221% on Black Friday and nearly 300% on Thanksgiving.  Smartphone and tablet sales accounted for nearly one-third of Sephora.com sales over Thanksgiving weekend.

The holiday season capped off a strong mobile year for Sephora, as it brought in $20.73 million in mobile sales in 2013, up 121% from $9.38 million in 2012, according to mobile commerce data available on Top500Guide.com.

A look at Sephora’s tablet app makes it clear the retailer takes app design seriously. It includes do-it-yourself written and video make-up tutorials, and in many cases shoppers can purchase products directly from within the tutorials to complete the look they’re trying to achieve. It also features a virtual mirror: Inverting the tablet’s camera so that the top half of the tablet screen becomes a mirror and the bottom a tutorial video, enabling users to apply make-up with the aid of the mirror while also watching the video for help.

And Sephora’s hard mobile work goes beyond the tablet. Sephora was one of just six retailers with a score above 80 for its m-commerce site in the 4th Annual Mobile Mystery Shopping Report from The E-tailing Group Inc. released late last year. The consultancy evaluated 50 mobile sites by performing six tasks on each site: Connect to a store; visit key pages, including home, category, product, search results and shopping cart; search for a product; research a product; buy a product; and seek customer service. The average scores across all the retailers was 69.7 out of 100.

The 2013 holiday season was also good to TheLimited.com’s mobile channel, as the retailer says sales via smartphones and tablets grew 127% over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend compared to 2012. The conversion rate for smartphones also grew 61% compared to the same time period in 2012, while tablet conversions grew 140%. Smartphone traffic grew 27% and tablet traffic grew 19%, the retailer says. 

The retailer features a robust mobile site with rotating hero images on the home page. Product pages have ample white space and buttons are large, enabling shoppers to tap their smartphones to get to what they want without accidently tapping a different option. It also makes use of a newer tool in mobile, known among developers as the “hamburger.” The hamburger is a small icon with three parallel horizontal lines; the top and bottom lines being the bun, and the middle line being the burger. Touching the icon shifts the current screen over to the right, mostly off-screen, so that a new screen, typically one for navigation, suddenly takes up the left two-thirds of the screen.

With $1.45 million in mobile sales last year, TheLimited.com ranks No. 400 in the Mobile 500.

Both TheLimited.com and Sephora offer mobile shoppers lots of options. Of the 25 mobile features and functions tracked by Internet Retailer on Top500Guide.com, The Limited boasts 15 and Sephora hosts 21. Both retailers offer the basics, such as enabling shoppers to log in to their accounts with the retailer, for example, to access items they have saved in their carts. But they also offer not-so-common functions, such as click-to-call, store locators, customer reviews and local services.  The home page for both retailers also loads on average in less than 10 seconds, (7.25 seconds for Sephora and a speedy 3.52 seconds for The Limited), according to data provided to Internet Retailer by mobile web performance management firm Keynote.

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