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Is this really the mobile tipping point?

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So it has finally happened: retail has gone mobile. Well, almost. More traffic to retailer websites now originates from mobile devices – tablets and smartphones – than it does from ‘PCs’ and desktop devices in the UK, finds IMRG and it is having interesting impacts on retailers and consumers alike.

But first some ‘history’. Back in 2010 the same IMRG Q2 benchmark found that 3% of retailer traffic was coming from mobile – and this was cause for celebration. It showed how rapidly mobile was becoming part of the consumer mind-set and how many of the fanciful notions we had about mobile in retail might actually come true.

It also gave me personal satisfaction as, being a rabid champion of mobile, I felt vindicated about all my cheer-leading for mobile and safe in the knowledge that I had a job – at least until mobile got to being 50% of online retail traffic.

Well today it stands at 52%. In many ways my work here is done. However, this is only the start. Mobile may well make up 52% of traffic to websites, but this just shows a change in device purchase behaviour rather than any real shift in habits. This is really M-retail 101: first get them using the devices instead of a computer.

And buying with mobile devices they certainly are. Not only has IMRG and a series of high profile retailers found that mobile has reached the tipping point, but also monthly stats from Affiliate Window also suggest that mobile is really motoring along.

According to Affiliate Window’s ad stats, 24,700 sales each day originated from a mobile device – that’s smartphone and tablet combined – with 9,300 of these were through a smartphone. Things are certainly going mobile.

However, what mobile retail is really about is how it changes the way we shop, the way shops handle shoppers and the way mobile is used to get people into shops. When mobile devices are responsible for 52% of visits to any retail property, online or in the real world, then we will be getting somewhere.

The fact that online shoppers now use a smartphone or tablet to visit retailer websites is not really the point. It is significant, yes, but it is just the first baby step towards the future of e-commerce. What will really define mobile retailing is how mobile is used within the whole shopping journey – both by the consumers using it and by retailers luring them in.

I have waxed lyrical already about how rubbish the in-store experience now is, especially for mobile fanboys like myself. The true measure of mobile’s penetration into retail is going to be in how it transforms this part of the retail environment. The hoo-hah around mobile traffic hitting 52% marks in some ways quite how unprepared the industry is. This shouldn’t come as a surprise.

I have to hope that it is the wake up call for retailers to start to look very closely and very rapidly about how to fully integrate mobile into the shopping experience from m-commerce through to marketing and on to payments.

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