October 1, 2012, 12:00 AM

The Internet Retailer Survey: Mobile Commerce

Bigger and better is the order of the day for retailers and mobile commerce.

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It's been five years since mobile commerce burst onto the scene as a promising new online sales channel for retailers. In that time mobile commerce has gone from an item on retailers' wish lists to a significant part of their business that many retailers are investing in at a faster pace, although most budgets remain modest.

The proof is in the numbers. More retail sales are coming through mobile devices, both smartphones and tablets, and mobile sales are growing faster than web sales as a whole, according to a new Internet Retailer survey. The survey of 37 web-only merchants, 15 chain retailers, 14 consumer brand manufacturers and 13 catalog/call center companies also finds that more retailers now see mobile commerce as critical to their success in e-commerce and plan to invest more, especially for tablets.

Dover Saddlery Inc., a multichannel retailer of equestrian care products and accessories, is typical of the 96.3% of survey respondents that rate mobile commerce as being important to their overall future, including the 58.8% that rate it as very important. In 2012, Dover Saddlery expects sales from mobile commerce to grow about 44% to $2.3 million from about $1.6 million in 2011, director of e-commerce Monique Trulson says. Mobile sales also could account for about 8.8% of total sales compared with 5.2% in 2011.

"We have seen a giant change in just about a year and everything we sell is ideally suited for mobile," Trulson says. "I get messages from customers that are using their smartphone or tablet directly from the barn or just after a ride."

Dover Saddlery's prime web customers are affluent men and women, engaged in horseback riding and equestrian events and caring for horses as beloved pets. Increasingly they turn to their mobile device and the mobile web to place recurring orders and take advantage of personalized offers. "This year mobile will account for about 11% of our total site traffic, and about 62% of that total is coming from customers using their iPads," Trulson says. "The iPad is a perfect tool to highlight our catalogs, which have always been well received and appreciated by our customers."

Upward trend

In the coming year Dover Saddlery, which generated annual e-commerce sales of $34.8 million in 2011 and total sales of around $78 million, is planning to revamp its mobile commerce platform as part of an overall e-commerce platform update and develop smartphone and tablet apps. "We're evaluating our mobile strategy, analyzing the audience and their preferred devices, and developing a road map," says Trulson. "We are seeing a steady upward trend in monthly revenue from mobile commerce since the start of the year and want to sustain that growth."

Other retailers also are seeing sustained growth in mobile commerce sales, according to the latest Internet Retailer research. The survey, which was conducted in August, finds that 63.8% of the retailers surveyed expect their 2012 mobile sales to be at least 11% higher than in the previous year, including 46.3% expecting growth of 26% and higher, 13.8% above 100% and 6.3% more than 200%.

Mobile sales also are accounting for a bigger share of overall e-commerce sales with the survey finding that mobile commerce, including smartphones and tablets, now represents more than 5% of online sales at 53.9% of merchants, with 18.4% saying mobile accounts for 11% to 20% of sales and another 5.3% saying it accounts for more than 20%. In a similar survey last year, only 9.4% of respondents said more than 10% of sales came from mobile devices.

Mobile goes global

At Estee Lauder Cos., a manufacturer of cosmetics and fragrances that sells under such brands as Estée Lauder, Aramis, Clinique, Prescriptives, Lab Series, Origins, MAC, Bobbi Brown, Tommy Hilfiger, Kiton, La Mer, and Donna Karan, mobile sales are expected to grow nearly 68% in 2012 to an Internet Retailer-estimated $20.1 million from $12.0 million in 2011.

Mobile sales are growing as a direct result of Estee Lauder introducing mobile-optimized versions of its global e-commerce sites. Estee Lauder this year launched six mobile sites to bring its total number to 39 mobile commerce sites in 11 global markets. "In the U.S., many of our brands are generating more than 15% of their online sales from mobile devices and m-commerce sales are growing much faster than sales made on personal computers," Estee Lauder Online president Dennis McEniry says. "We are leveraging the growing mobile adoption in emerging markets such as China, India and South Africa, where mobile phones are leapfrogging PC technology."

Estee Lauder is also offering mobile consumers a more personalized online shopping experience, Estee Lauder vice president of global digital operations and strategy Russell Moorehead says. For example in December 2011 Estee Lauder launched an iPhone app for its Aveda hair care products line that lets users create a unique look from a personalized hair style gallery, view skin care and style-related videos, and communicate directly via live chat with cosmetics and body care specialists. The Aveda app also lets users upload and save photos and make purchases.

"We saw early on that mobile could be a real strategic fit for marketing and selling prestige beauty products," Moorehead says. "The smartphone sits right next to cosmetics in our customers' handbags and we want to develop that synergy to be their skin care brand of choice."

Advanced mobile commerce functionality and technology is a differentiator Estee Lauder hopes to build on in the high-end cosmetics market, Moorehead says. "We will keep building up our bench strength," he says.

Other retailers also will continue to increase investments in mobile commerce and in advanced features and functions. The survey finds that 68.8% of retailers expect to increase their spending on mobile commerce technology in the next 12 months including 61.8% that plan to spend more than 10%, including 10.9% that aim to increase spending by 50% to 100% and 9.1% that expect to at least double their m-commerce investment.

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