Retailers see rise in smartphone shopping

By Jonathan Birchall in New York

Published: November 29 2010 19:50 | Last updated: November 29 2010 19:50

US shoppers equipped with smartphones have significantly increased the volume of both searches and sales made from mobile devices so far this holiday season, underlining the technology’s growing retail power.

Fiona Dias, head of strategy at GSI Commerce, which provides e-commerce services to retailers, said that a survey of a range of retailers showed that sales from mobile devices accounted for almost 3 per cent of their online sales on the Friday and Saturday after the US Thanksgiving holiday last Thursday, compared with “practically zero” last year.

“You are talking about a nine or 10 times increase in penetration … although there’s still a way to go,” she said.

Laura Conrad, president of Pricegrabber, a comparison shopping site owned by Experian, said it had seen a “significant spike” in recent days in the number of people using their mobile phones both for purchases and for research.

“There is more research than buying because people are not completely comfortable making purchases [via this medium] and a lot of retailers still do not have good applications for the mobile phone yet,” she said.

The Find, a search engine that also allows shoppers to compare prices, said roughly a quarter of the searches over the post-Thanksgiving weekend came from mobile devices, up from about 15 per cent a year ago. It said the total number of mobile searches was more than four and a half times greater than the volume seen a year ago.

Ebay, the e-commerce marketplace, also reported that mobile transactions using its PayPal and Bill Me Later payments services more than tripled during the post-Thanksgiving Friday sales, compared with the same day last year. Ebay saw an increase of 27 per cent in total payment transactions over last year’s Black Friday.

Ms Dias said that Rue La La, a luxury flash sales site owned by GSI commerce, had benefited from an unusual surge in mobile usage on the day of the Thanksgiving holiday itself, as its primarily young, female customers used their phones to pursue limited-time sales offers. Mobile devices accounted for 19 per cent of its revenues, up from just 2 per cent of sales a year ago and double the levels seen earlier in the month.

“If you are sitting on your grandma’s couch … then you are really just forced to buy through Rue La La’s mobile site,” she said.

About 28 per cent of US mobile phone subscribers have a smartphone, according to data from The Nielsen Company.

Meanwhile, US retailers on Monday launched a new wave of price cutting offers to mark “cyber-Monday”, the day that sees a surge in online buying from the office as people return to work after the holiday.