Mobile Future

Let’s Shop!

It’s official: The mobile revolution has grabbed another national pastime.

Beginning with Black Friday and carrying into the season of holiday shopping sprees, Americans’ rapid adoption of mobile shopping is pretty remarkable. First, look at a few numbers:

 On Thanksgiving Day, shopping site Ruelala.com reported that about 19 percent of sales came from mobile users, up tenfold from a year ago.

 Mobile sales from online giant eBay.com nearly doubled from 2009 levels on Black Friday. The company’s Cyber Monday statistics were equally as impressive: Mobile sales increased 146% from the previous year. (And yes, it’s a trend found across the United States.)

 Finally, over at BlueNile.com, one customer used his mobile phone to make a $250,000 diamond purchase. (Impressive as it is, it’s still not the coolest item purchased with a smartphone this year.)

In short, the predictions about Americans’ rapid adoption of mobile shopping apps are coming true. On Cyber Monday, National Retail Federation estimated that more than 7 million people used a mobile device for shopping, nearly double the estimated 4 million mobile shoppers on the same day in 2009.

What’s driving this rapid evolution? First, costs are declining significantly. From late 2008 to this past fall, the average handset subsidy increased by almost 50 percent, according to a recent Goldman Sachs report. This has put smartphones within reach of tens of millions of Americans who once saw them as too expensive.

It also puts America on a trajectory where, by 2012, smartphone sales will exceed PC and notebook sales combined.

Service costs are dropping too. A General Accountability Office (GAO) report in August concluded that from 1999 to 2008, average wireless service prices had declined each year. It also reported that average prices in 2009 were half the prices in 1999.

Second, there is the obvious growth of mobile retail apps. Taking BlueNile.com as an example, Forbes reports that mobile traffic on Thanksgiving increased 1600 percent over last year. One key difference: This year, Blue Nile had a mobile app. Among major retailers, we’ve reached the point where mobile apps are only noticed by their absence. Meanwhile, many smaller retailers were quicker to market their own mobile apps and reaped the benefits, leapfrogging over larger, less nimble competitors.

Finally, there is the rapid growth of several truly remarkable mobile apps: ones that make instant product and price comparisons like PriceGrabber, ShopSavvy and eBay’s Red Laser.

Just scan a barcode when you’re at the store and the app immediately scours the web looking for comparable products and prices. It’s the perfect companion when you’re considering that impulse “all sales final” purchase and want to make sure you’re getting a good deal.

This time next year, you may be paying for your holiday gifts just by swiping your smartphone in front of a small scanner. And with industry trends continually pointing to decreased service costs and mass proliferation of mobile apps, stay tuned: The mobile revolution in retail is just beginning.