Mobile-Smart for Retail…Not Mobile-First

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This article first appeared on LinkedIn July 15th, 2014.  You can read the original article here.

A recent Techcrunch article entitled, Software Entrepreneurs Must Go Mobile-First or Die, argued that due to growing mobile usage, it’s imperative that startups focus on addressing the mobile segment first. Despite the sensationalistic headline, mobile usage is growing but at different levels across various use cases (i.e. social networking vs. shopping). In fact, for the retail segment, there is an increasing amount of data that shows that not only does PC usage still have the highest conversion rate, but that mobile commerce itself still has a ways to go before it’s a legitimate channel for shopper conversions.

When addressing the mobile segment, it’s first important to look at your market and how consumers are using mobile in that market. Consumers are already using tablets and smartphones quite differently and there are distinct usage patterns across both platforms. ExactTarget has a very in-depth 2014 Mobile Behavior Report (PDF) that outlines some of these usage differences between tablets and smartphones. For retail and commerce specifically, there are 3 recent studies and surveys that shed some light on how shoppers are using mobile devices vs. PC devices for shopping.

#1 – Online Shoppers still prefer buying on PC vs. Mobile (Link)

A recent UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper Study shows some interesting data on why people choose PC over mobile for their online shopping. Given mobile platforms have smaller screen sizes, it’s not all that surprising to see that product information dictated the platform online shoppers utilized. 43% of survey participants selected “can’t get a clear or large enough image of the product” and 34% selected “product information cannot be easily viewed”. Some other surprising data from the study involves how shoppers are using PC’s and mobile devices to research products before purchasing. Again, PC’s come out on top with over 61% of shoppers using PC’s to research products. This runs counter to the general current mindset that shoppers use mobile devices to research a product and then purchase in-store or on a PC.

And an even more surprising data point shows that despite the growing ‘app for everything mindset’ for mobile platforms, shoppers still prefer to research and purchase products via a website on their mobile device.

#2 – PC still has highest conversion rate for ecommerce (Link) If you’re focusing on mobile-first, you’re excluding your PC customers that still have the highest conversion rate for retail. From a recent Monetate study, PC still commands the highest conversion rate for shoppers. Thomas Husson from Forrester Research also remarked in a 2013 Forrester Research Webinar on The Smartphone & Tablet Experience that, “The vast majority of retailers reported conversion rates on smartphones were around 1%, while conversion rates for tablets were 2.4%.” Despite mobile’s growing usage, mobile conversion rates have still remained at relatively flat and low levels (see Monetate’s chart below).

#3 – Mcommerce is only projected to be 2.4% of total retail sales by 2018 (Link) eMarketer recently released it’s first ever forecast for total U.S. retail and retail store sales. Though U.S. total retails sales are projected to grow to $5.5 trillion by 2018, mobile commerce, or mcommerce, is only set to grow to 2.4% of total retail sales in 2018.

As we noted in our blog post regarding this data, eMarketer isn’t breaking down how mobile based sales are calculated. Due to trends such as webrooming, shoppers are increasingly researching products on tablets and PC’s and then going in-store to purchase. Furthermore, mobile is playing an increasingly important role in retail both from the shopper and retailer side. Beacon technology and Augmented Reality are just a few of the emerging technologies that can both transform and elevate the in-store experience via mobile devices. Strictly speaking though, mcommerce as related to purchase from the relevant mobile device platform, still shows that in-store retail and PC based commerce will comprise a larger percent of retail sales over the next few years.


Given the wide disparity of screen sizes and mobile operating systems (iOS, Android, Windows), developing apps across a fractured mobile platform and OS environment can become expensive. Responsive design is a more efficient and economical approach allowing your site to be accessible across this fractured environment. Though mobile apps have some strengths when it comes to quick access and notifications, the data presented above shows that the majority of ecommerce purchases are happening on PC’s first and tablets second. The common denominator for both – a web or mobile web commerce experience.

There’s no dispute that mobile usage is growing though utilizing a responsive design strategy vs. a mobile-first strategy for retail will lead to better results. By focusing on mobile-first only, you will be diminishing (and often times excluding) other platforms that currently have higher penetration rates and conversion rates.