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As mobile commerce grows, so do retailer challenges

While the smartphone shopping experience keeps improving, it trails the desktop experience on many metrics, according to Adobe data.

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The so-called "retailpocalyse" has claimed the existence of many brick-and-mortar retailers. According to data from Adobe's digital insights group, though, online retailers are about to face a new reckoning -- the shift to mobile commerce.

Leveraging data culled from anonymous consumer traffic to the high percentage of online retailers using its analytics products, Adobe has identified a number of trends regarding traffic and transactions at online retailers. The growth in smartphone penetration and capabilities over the past few years has helped fuel mobile visits to online retailers.

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At the beginning of 2014, smartphones accounted for less than 20 percent of digital visits to retailers, while PCs accounted for just less than 70 percent. However, by March of this year, smartphones had accounted for 43 percent of such visits and are poised to overtake desktop visits within a few months as the share of traffic from tablets also slides.

While the shift to mobile enables digital commerce from virtually anywhere, it is not without its challenges. Adobe's data confirms that the average value of a digital order increases with the time spent in a shopping session and, of course, smartphone sessions tend to be shorter than those on desktop.

And even as smartphone sessions stretch to between one and two hours, the average order value they drive are considerably lower -- well over $180 for a desktop session versus about $150 for a smartphone. That difference is compounded by a difference in the conversion rates for such an extended visit -- about 24 percent for smartphones versus about 32 percent for PCs. While the overall conversion percentage of visits to transactions has grown from about one to 1.5 percent for smartphones, it's still a far cry from desktops that sit at around four percent.

The growth trends are clear, though. When comparing revenue per visit for smartphones as a percentage of that of desktops, smartphones were at about 18 percent at the beginning of 2014. In March of 2018, that had more than doubled to 32 percent.

Clearly, the richer displays and more comfortable browsing environments of PCs provide an advantage for retailers during online shopping, but smartphones have many tricks left up their sleeve. For example, smartphones are far better positioned to take advantage of the mixed environment of digital and physical retailing. That's something that even Amazon is jumping deeper into through initiatives that include Prime Now, Amazon Go, Amazon Books physical stores, and, of course, Whole Foods.

And speaking of Amazon, the company's pioneering work in voice-based shopping is only poised to grow. That's particularly true for routine items made within the home that might have been made via a PC. With the smartphone no doubt continuing its ascent to the dominant commerce platform in the US, retailers will have to work on optimizing that experience as well as complementing it.

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