Mid-market Merchants Lag on Holiday Mobile Sales

Several shopping trends are already emerging from this year’s holiday season. U.S. ecommerce sales for Thanksgiving Day and Black Friday were up a healthy 20 percent over last year, according to Comscore. But the big story is that U.S. ecommerce sales on mobile are up by a whopping 50 percent.

Tellingly, the bulk of the increase in mobile sales has gone to the largest merchants. Mid-market brands and retailers have struggled to capture sales from mobile.

Mid-market brands and retailers have struggled to capture sales from mobile.

According to Adobe, U.S. retailers with more than $1 billion in annual online revenue increased their share of mobile ecommerce sales by 11 percent on Black Friday. They also converted smartphone browsers to buyers 66 percent higher than retailers with less than $50 million in online sales. This is a worrying trend given that 63 percent of 2019 U.S. holiday ecommerce traffic has been on mobile devices, according to Adobe.

In this post, I’ll address what’s gone wrong for mid-market merchants.

Happy (Mobile) Holidays

Consumers are firmly adopting mobile as the primary shopping device. The rapid growth in mobile conversions this holiday season extends the trend of the last few years. Mobile shopping is now mainstream, and brands and retailers can ill afford to ignore it.

Mobile conversions still significantly lag desktop because of the sub-optimal mobile shopping experiences on many ecommerce sites that have not adopted a mobile-first approach.

The concept of “mobile-first” is not new. Many merchants adopted responsive design, which is typically resizing desktop experiences to fit mobile screens. That is not mobile-first. It’s a compromise based on desktop.

But desktop commerce for a keyboard and mouse doesn’t typically resize down well. It needs rethinking for smaller screens and finger inputs. Drop-down menus, radio buttons, facets and filters, category trees, registration, and checkout all offer a poor experience when shrunk from a desktop.

Where merchants have adopted a mobile-first approach, especially with apps, conversion rates often exceed that of desktop. If they make it easy for consumers to shop on their preferred device, merchants will sell more, and the experience is overall much easier.

But this year I’ve seen mid-market merchants hesitate to go mobile-first. They know they should focus on mobile. But often their business is squeezed, and margins are tight. This year’s holiday data suggests that compelling mobile shopping experiences are a must-have.

The good news is that mobile apps are no longer prohibitively expensive to build and maintain. Merchants can produce a mobile app from a modern commerce platform literally at the press of a button. iOS? Android? Progressive web app? Just tick the box and press deploy. Modern commerce platforms now support native deployments across mobile and desktop, enabling merchants to build one experience and deploy and optimize across many devices.

One-tap Purchase

This modern approach produces a mobile-optimized experience across shoppers’ preferred device without it costing the merchant an arm and a leg. Add in support for one-tap buy, in the form of, say, Apple Pay, Google Pay, or PayPal, and you have an experience that will beat desktop for most product categories. Yet today most mid-market brands and retailers do not yet support Apple Pay or Google Pay.

Checkout with a one-tap buy on mobile is significantly faster than checking out on desktop. The payment, billing, and shipping information is already on the device, for unregistered and registered visitors. It is transformational. To illustrate, I recorded the video below during a recent one-tap buy session.

The New Battleground

Amazon, Walmart, and Target all have rich mobile shopping experiences based on both native and progressive web apps. And that’s my point. It’s not one or the other. You need both. They each appeal to different consumer segments.

Native apps can provide the most intuitive and richest shopping experience to your best customers. Native apps require a download, however, which is where progressive web apps come in. PWAs offer an app-like experience in a browser. This approach serves shoppers who are not committed enough to download an app but still require a rich experience with swiping, pinching, and one-tap buy.

For many years, ecommerce sales have consolidated towards the largest merchants. That is not healthy for consumers or the industry. That trend looks to continue this year.

But the new battleground is based on small screens. When it comes to planning for 2020, mobile has to be the top priority.

Charles Nicholls
Charles Nicholls
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