October 3, 2013, 2:33 PM

Mobile unleashed

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Some retailers, like TV and web shopping channel QVC Inc., a unit of Liberty Interactive Corp., use vendors to manage the technical aspects of migrating to responsive design and some other mobile projects, while relying on internal staff to direct those providers. "The program and the strategy for mobile are all managed in-house," says Todd Sprinkle, QVC vice president of content and platform integration. QVC is No. 3 in the Mobile 500.

Following that approach, in-house staff service Fathead's mobile commerce program with the exception of an app, which Layne says was developed by a vendor. The app is not commerce-enabled. Of the retailers in the Mobile 500, 68.4%, or 342, use a vendor.

Just more than half, 50.7%, of retailer respondents to the survey said they use a vendor to help with their mobile commerce efforts. Of that group, 29.9% said they do so because they lack the in-house expertise and 25.4% said they find it cheaper to outsource the work. 14.9% said they do so because the technology is too complex. A majority of survey respondents—75.8%—intend to increase their mobile commerce technology spending in 2013.

When asked what consumers do on their mobile sites, 80.6% of respondents said they research products and compare prices, up significantly from 61.0% that said so in 2012. Making a purchase was the next most popular activity—73.1% of retailers said consumers bought products from the mobile site, compared with 58.5% last year. Respondents could select more than one answer.

While every retailer wants conversions, some, such as Jewelry Warehouse see a mobile site as a way to reach potential new customers among a target audience. For Jewelry Warehouse that includes college students who are rarely without a smartphone. "Even if they don't purchase, we've got them in," he says. Jewelry Warehouse advertises its mobile web site inside the University of South Carolina football stadium and at games hands out 30,000 stickers with a shortened URL to attract first-time visitors. "We use mobile as a way to reach a customer we wouldn't normally reach," Boomhower says.

Fathead, too, says mobile visitors are different from those who arrive at its desktop site. "We're seeing more first-time visitors on mobile than on desktop," Layne says. "We noticed a spike on mobile when we run television ads, but the conversion rate goes up on the desktop site."

Mobile shoppers visiting WebUndies.com behave differently based on the device they are using, Hunsinger says. "Most of the time, consumers on their phones are accessing our e-mails, looking for customer service information, or looking for a product they saw on Pinterest or Facebook," Hunsinger says. Tablet shoppers are more likely to purchase, she says. Of WebUndies.com's $338,000 in projected 2013 mobile sales, 58.6% of that will come from tablet users and 41.4% from smartphone users. Most of the mobile traffic—21% of total web site traffic—is from smartphones, with 10% from tablet users.

Consumers also are spending more on their mobile devices than they have in the past, the survey suggests. The majority of retailers in the survey—37.9%—said their m-commerce transactions average between $101 and $500, compared with 24.4% last year. And fewer—13.6%—reported an average m-commerce order of less than $25 versus 19.2% in 2012. It appears consumers are becoming more comfortable shopping on smartphones and tablets, even as retailers invest more in improving mobile shopping.

Retailers clearly have accepted the role of mobile in generating sales and traffic. M-commerce's inevitability means retailers will have to develop cleaner and faster shopping experiences, says Fathead's Layne, so consumers can just as easily accomplish their tasks on their phones as anywhere else. "As with anything e-commerce related," he says, "if you can get out of the way of what consumers are trying to do, you always win."

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