Mobile to Be 25% of E-Commerce in Five Years? Not So Fast

ABI Research is projecting that mobile devices will account for just under one quarter (24.4%) of all e-commerce by 2017. If "mobile" is defined to include tablets, then maybe. But if we're talking about smartphones largely or exclusively there's a long way to go before that happens.

Despite the fact that the data now show a majority of smartphone users have made purchases on their devices, most people don't routinely engage in e-commerce via smartphones. Security fears and the problem of entering credit card numbers are major barriers to so-called "m-commerce." Tablets by contrast are driving lots of purchase behavior. 

A majority of smartphone owners (80% to 90%) use their devices in stores to check prices and get reviews and product information. However most don't go on to buy -- unless it's through eBay or Amazon. 

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As a general matter, if people are going to buy "online," they later go to their PCs and make purchases. Nielsen data, compiled by eMarketer, show that a minority of users (5% of smartphone owners) are buying things directly through mobile devices -- in this case in response to a mobile ad. But these data are also reflective of the general fact that most people don't buy on smartphones. 

According to Nielsen the top mobile "shopping" apps are the following

  1. eBay Mobile
  2. Amazon Mobile
  3. Groupon
  4. ShopKick

Amazon and eBay in particular have invested hugely in mobile and it has paid off -- literally. Amazon in particular has your credit card on file and can enable a mobile transaction with a single click.

By contrast, most e-commerce sellers lag far behind these leaders. And to drive the kind of shopping volume that ABI is projecting the "credit card problem" needs to be solved. Large retailers with whom shoppers have direct relationships (e.g., Target, Macys, Wal-Mart) can store credit cards on file and remove friction accordingly. 

However "no-name" e-commerce sellers are not going to be able to participate in smartphone-based commerce unless they address the payments problem, which could be via PayPal or using a solution such as the one offered by Card.io. Indeed, it's far from clear that the ABI prediction will come to pass.

We're probably looking at a situation for the medium term foreseeable future where smartphones are aggressively used by consumers for research and price comparisons but generally not used for conventional e-commerce transactions except in select situations such as I've described.