February 14, 2011, 3:50 PM

M looks a lot like E did a decade ago

Consumers are dipping their toes in the m-commerce waters.

Lead Photo

According a recent Adobe Scene7 poll, mobile commerce is on the rise. However, a closer look shows consumers still favor safe, low-cost items when shopping via their smartphones.

The poll of consumers with web-connected mobile devices, primarily smartphones, finds 62% are buying via their devices. The poll weeds out digital goods such as ringtones, wallpapers, etc., to only include physical goods. So, we’re not dealing with 99-cent Angry Birds games here. But a closer look finds m-commerce still has a long way to go before it catches up with big brother e-commerce.

The greatest segment of mobile shoppers, 45%, spent $249 or less via mobile during the last 12 months, the report says. By comparison, the average annual online spend per shopper in 2010 was $1,139, according to an estimate from research firm eMarketer.

Next, let’s look at what they buy. The most purchased consumer goods category is shrink-wrapped entertainment, including movies, music and games, purchased by 43% of the respondents who shopped on mobile devices. The next largest category is a smaller portion, 30%, for clothing, shoes and jewelry. And it’s just a hunch, but I’m betting smitten males aren’t buying an engagement ring via a smartphone just yet.

To me theses figures show hope, but also illustrate m-commerce still has a long way to go—which also means it has a lot of potential. I remember the day when consumers scoffed at the idea of buying big-ticket and visual-centric items via their PCs. My how that has changed. A good friend of mine got engaged a few weeks ago. Where did her fiancé buy the ring? BlueNile.com.

For now, mobile is a lot like the beginnings of e-commerce. People are dipping their toes in the water, but for big-ticket items, the water may still be a bit too cool. However, basic concerns, such as inputting credit card data via a mobile device or wondering if an order will go through, are not as major as when the concept of shopping from a phone was brand new. Part of that is because consumers are so used to buying digitally via their PCs.

Smartphone owners are becoming fairly comfortable buying items that are content-based rather than appearance-based—a DVD they heard was great, a book a friend recommended, etc. But they are still shying away from the biggies.

So what will it take for M to catch up with E? Part of it will simply be a matter of giving consumers time—and there’s not a whole lot a retailer can do about that. In the meantime, retailers should focus on making it easy to shop from a mobile device. Quick checkout, alternate images, and ratings and reviews can’t hurt. After all, it’s those very features that helped move more shoppers to buy online when a computer was the only option.

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