How Big Will Mobile Be This Holiday Season? It’s A Numbers Game

Written by Evan Schuman
October 28th, 2010

New figures from a National Retail Federation (NRF) survey suggest that mobile shopping will soar this holiday season. But digging deeper into the numbers suggests something much more nuanced. It shows a surprisingly large number of American consumers predicting they’ll shop by phone as well as comments from younger, “practically married to their smartphones” consumers saying they’ll not be using their phones for shopping—not even for research.

The story behind the numbers also gets into some definitional questions. Consider a 19-year-old who poses a question to a Facebook forum about which car to buy. Does that consumer think of such an inquiry as mobile research or merely talking with friends? Retailers are likely to see it as quintessential M-Commerce research, but the consumer—who is answering these survey questions—is more likely to see it as hanging with friends and say “no,” said Pam Goodfellow, a senior analyst with Big Research, which managed the NRF survey.

“Is texting research? Should it be?” Goodfellow asked.

That distinction might suggest the numbers of those who will be making—or researching—mobile purchases should be even higher than the survey shows.

Another detail suggests the numbers are lower than reality. The survey of 8,767 consumers began October 5 and ended October 12. “In early October, [many younger consumers’] minds may very well be elsewhere,” far away from the practical matters of holiday shopping, Goodfellow said.

Consumers may say they won’t be doing any M-Commerce research or purchases, but they very well might when December arrives, she said. That’s key for retailers to consider when reviewing expected M-Commerce usage stats.

As for those stats, let’s take a look. Of the consumers who said they had what they considered to be smartphones, 26.8 percent said they would use their smartphones to either research or make a purchase this holiday season. That number jumps to 45 percent when limited to those aged 18 to 24.

There are a few troubling practical issues with those numbers, issues that deal with how the questions were phrased. The problems don’t make the answers less useful, but they do rob us of the ability to analyze them much further.

The survey does ask a question of U.S. consumers who did not necessarily say they had a smartphone. That’s great to get a sense of the bulk of the population. But the only M-Commerce question respondents were asked was, “This holiday season, will you use a smartphone (i.e., iPhone, Droid, etc.) to research or make holiday purchases from a retailer?”


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