December 1, 2011, 1:53 PM

M-commerce sales will reach $6.7 billion this year, eMarketer predicts

26.8 million consumers will make at least one mobile purchase in 2011.

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Mobile commerce sales still are a small percentage of total e-commerce sales, but they are on a steep upward trajectory thanks in part to increasing adoption of smartphones and rising mobile web usage, according to a new forecast by research firm eMarketer.

The firm estimates U.S. mobile commerce sales will reach $6.7 billion this year, a 91.4% increase over 2010’s $3.5 billion. Next year, sales will rise another 73.1% to $11.6 billion. Mobile sales will hit $31 billion in 2015, eMarketer predicts.

“Mobile commerce is growing at a fast clip—and it’s acting as an engine of overall e-commerce growth by converting potential bricks-and-mortar sales to digital sales as consumers use their smartphones while shopping in-store,” says eMarketer principal analyst Jeffrey Grau.

The eMarketer estimates of mobile sales are based on an analysis of data from research firms as well as overall trends in mobile ownership and usage. M-commerce sales include sales of physical goods as well as travel and event tickets purchased via mobile, but exclude digital downloads and usage of mobile phones as a point-of-sale payment mechanism. The estimates for m-commerce sales do not include purchases made from tablet devices.

Internet Retailer projects the top 300 merchants in mobile commerce will reach total 2011 sales of $5.7 billion, according to the Internet Retailer Mobile Commerce Top 300. This includes retail, travel and tickets as well as purchases with tablets, and excludes most digital downloads.

EMarketer forecasts 37.5 million U.S. consumers ages 14 and up will make at least one purchase on their mobile phone next year, up from 26.8 million this year. The vast majority of that group will be smartphone owners, at 97% in 2012. Overall, 72.8 million mobile users will research or browse items on their phones next year but not necessarily make a purchase.

“For years, the trend has been for consumers to research products online, then go buy in-store,” says Grau. “But as the industry improves its slate of mobile offerings, consumers are increasingly visiting stores to research products, then go buy something else on their mobile devices.”

It means bricks-and-mortar retailers run the risk of becoming showrooms for and other online retailers—though the shift to mobile shopping can benefit store retailers as well, Grau adds.

“If a retailer has robust mobile offerings, it can steer in-store shoppers to look online for more information or find out-of-stock sizes and items on its own mobile site or app,” Grau says, “retaining the sale via a different channel.”

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