'Tis the season for mobile shopping

When it comes to holiday shopping, an increasing number of consumers are “phoning it in” -- literally. They’re embracing the speed and convenience of shopping from smartphones and tablets and helping depress traffic to physical stores.

ComScore expects mobile holiday purchases to account for about 20 percent of total e-commerce sales, in-line with the third quarter when it reached an all-time high, according to spokesman Adam Lella. A year ago, spending from mobile devices accounted for about 13 percent of e-commerce holiday spending.

Cyber Monday, which has gained prominence in recent years, is expected to reap sales of $2.5 billion, $1 billion of which is coming from mobile sources, according to conScore. Amazon (AMZN) also is bullish on Cyber Monday, saying in a press release that it expects to outperform last year when customers purchased more than 33 electronic devices per second.

Though mobile payment offerings such as Apple Pay, PayPal and Android Pay have gained in popularity, many retailers and consumers have been slow to adopt the technology, according to Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Commerce, an e-commerce services provider, which owns FreeShipping.com and ShopSmarter.

“Indeed, while consumers are moving toward mobile shopping in growing numbers, retailers’ haven’t prioritized that channel yet. Their m-commerce strategies and platforms are still evolving,” he said. “That’s why, even though mobile traffic to retail sites is on track to surpass desktop traffic this holiday season, mobile sales will still comprise only about one-third of all e-commerce sales.”

According to Adobe (ADBE), 37 percent of all e-commerce sales came from smartphones and tablets during Nov. 24-27, totaling $3.46 billion. Black Friday mobile sales surged 33 percent to a record $1.2 billion while consumers spent another $771 million on Thanksgiving. 

Both Walmart (WMT) and Target (TGT) each reported that 60 percent of the e-commerce orders they received over the weekend came from mobile sources. Like other retailers, the chains are hoping to entice consumers through features on their shopping apps.

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, allows consumers to check the availability of merchandise on its app and will give consumers a gift card if their item has a lower advertised price at a rival. 

Minneapolis-based Target introduced its Cartwheel app in 2013 and offered consumers access to nearly all of its Black Friday doorbuster deals on Thanksgiving. As a result, Target.com had a “record-breaking day with traffic and sales eclipsing 2015 Cyber Monday,” according to a press release. As of Monday afternoon, Target’s 30 million Cartwheel users have saved more than $731 million since the app’s launch, according to the retailer’s website.

Kohl’s (KSS) is allowing customers to store a digital wallet in its app that can store all of the retailer’s promotions, including “Kohl’s cash,” in one spot. They can also use the company’s Kohl’s Pay mobile payment feature and get sales alerts sent to their devices. Electronics retailer Best Buy (BBY) offers not just product ratings and reviews, but it also allows customers to chat with experts to help them make their purchases.

“Moving into m-commerce can present technical challenges to e-commerce companies, mostly due to the differences in space and functionality available on mobile devices,” wrote Clarus Commerce’s Caporaso in an email. “Smartphone users want stable, fast-loading sites; clean, quick navigation paths; convenient, near-instant access to products and information; the ability to zoom into images easily; and streamlined frictionless checkout flows.”

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    Jonathan Berr is an award-winning journalist and podcaster based in New Jersey whose main focus is on business and economic issues.