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In Between the Numbers: The value of m-commerce: Is it where we think?

September 21, 2011
at 7:58 pm PST

 Thinking today about mobility – cell phones, smartphones, tablets – and where and when it’ll be changing the rules of retail.

 Forrester made a solid case this June that it won’t be as a transaction tool.   They – and eMarketer.com – expect M-commerce to be only 7% of total E-commerce revenue by 2016, which means M-com will total only 1% of retail merchandise purchase market.

 Gartner made the case this May (echoed by Forrester) that it won’t be as an electronic wallet – at least not until 2015 and beyond.  Despite the fact that some 40-50 NFC-enabled smart phones will be shipped this year, the complexities of collaboration between service providers, financial institutions, retailers, and standards bodies is rendering progress slow and tortuous. (To see a preview, rewind to the past decade’s EPC-RFID efforts.)

 And yet: The future of the personal communication and computing is increasingly mobile, and that means retailers are looking at a potential opportunity.

 IDC reported this past February that vendors shipped roughly 10% more smartphones than personal computers in the fourth quarter of 2010. eMarketer predicts that the percentage of U.S. mobile subscribers with advanced, web-enabled handsets (that’s smartphones to you and me) will grow from 39% today to 49% in two years.

 Strategy Analytics forecasts that U.S. unit sales of smart phones and tablets by 2015 will be 165 million -- 2.4 times the unit sales of all forms of personal computers (notebooks, netbooks, desktops). 

 But if not used for transactions or payment, where and when will mobility truly matter? I’d suggest the answer at the moment is about search.  This means we still understand mobile mainly as the anytime, anywhere, top-personal-preference entry point into the boundless breadth and depth of the Internet – a critical touchpoint in the omni-channel future. ABI Research and other firms are finding a significant uptake on in-store use of mobiles to check products and prices.

 Keep in mind that smart phones with touch-screen GUIs drive more than four times more Internet access than those without.  Mobile shopping searches increased 300% YOY, January 2009 to January 2010, and January 2010 to January 2011. Google reported that some 59% of U.S. smart phone users used their phones for holiday shopping in Q4 2010.  And that 80% of those smart phone shoppers accessed them while in a store.

 And keep in mind that of all those mobile shoppers, 48% researched on the smartphone, and then went into a store to purchase.  And another 45% researched on the smartphone, and then purchased online. 

 Yesterday’s channel thinking will miss this critical market transition.  

 Don’t get left behind.

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