Watson Says It’s Mobile Black Friday

In the US, One Third of E-Commerce Sales Will Come from Mobile

Today, Black Friday, the 2015 holiday season kicks off in earnest. Trend analytics indicate this could be the most mobile-centric shopping season ever.

There should be no exaggerating the numbers. Bricks-and-mortar stores continue to dominate retail sales. According to the US Department of Commerce, 93% of retail sales in the US are through traditional store fronts, but the level of e-commerce sales grows every year. Cyber Monday sales in 2014, for example, totalled $2.7 billion, a 17 percent increase over 2013 sales, a constant trend since the day’s inception a decade ago.

During the first weekend of the holiday shopping season that begins on Thanksgiving Day in the US, IBM’s trend analysis engine Watson concludes that more potential customers will visit retailers’ Web sites on mobile devices than using desktop PCs or tablets. According to Watson, mobile traffic during the busiest shopping period of the year is expected to reach 57 percent of total Internet traffic, up from 49 percent last year. Mobile-based e-commerce sales are expected to account for 36 percent of all online sales, up from 27 percent last year.

Wal-Mart expects three-quarters of US-based traffic to its Web site to come from mobile devices this holiday season. The trend was echoed in China during the recent Singles’ Day, when 69 percent of Alibaba’s $14.3 billion of sales came from mobile devices. Catering to mobile users can no longer be an afterthought.

Mobile shopping provides a convenience factor as retailers have have made the experience friendlier by improving dedicated apps and sites. The mobile experience is beginning to mimic the in-store experience, with customer perks such as coupons and loyalty points working equally well across both venues. Retailers provide a fluid relationship between their Web sites and the physical world with in-store pick-up and returns. Clicks and bricks are working side by side. Transactions can originate on smartphones and carry over to face-to-face interactions.

Looking at device hardware, smartphone screens have grown wider and sharper, making it easier for customers to window shop from afar and build a basket of goods. Digital wallets and secure apps that enable shoppers to store payment information are improving usability and increase the chances of closing the deal.

Mobile shopping is not without its problems, including security concerns, sluggish apps and hard-to-navigate mobile Web sites. Nonetheless, as a majority of consumers turn to their smartphones to research products and services, retailers will have to cater to mobile users. Bricks-and-mortar sales will continue to dominate for years to come, but mobile is now playing at least a partial role in the majority of transactions. Retailers globally will need to step up their mobile efforts to optimise customer relationships and sales. Watson gives wise advice.

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