Mobile shoppers aren't converting, but does it matter?

Forrester's Sucharita Mulpuru presented some numbers about mobile shoppers before Wednesday's morning keynote that were concerning for many retailers. Mobile shopping has grown to account for almost a quarter of all collective web traffic for retailers, but conversion of those shoppers is still well behind the curve at just a quarter of desktop conversions.

"The challenge is that when we look at conversion and revenue numbers, mobile phones in particular just aren't holding their weight," Mulpuru said. "There's definitely a delta that, as an industry, we need to figure out what the challenge is and what are the ways that we can fix that."

The question is, does the fact that shoppers aren't making purchases on their phones actually matter?

According to Mulpuru, the answer for many retailers is no. One reason is that much of mobile retail is about conversion, not to a purchase then and there, but to a conversion at a physical store. Shoppers are doing their research, price comparisons and deal hunting on the phone and then stopping by a brick and mortar store to complete the purchase.

A recent Forrester study that looked at thousands of online shoppers found that, when they use their phone in a retail context, the majority of users are going to the store locator or checking to see where particular items are sold.

Similarly, half of mobile shoppers switch devices while shopping, according to Forrester. So as alarming as poor conversion stats can be, retailers don't need to panic about their mobile strategy just yet. Still, there is a minority of companies getting half or more of its e-commerce revenue specifically from m-commerce.

"What those companies have caught on to is the truth that, as an industry, we haven't yet fully embraced," Mulpuru explained. "While, for the most part, most great e-commerce sites are essentially the same…every great m-commerce experience is fundamentally different."

She went on to describe how the best of the best in mobile retail design harness the power of what she called advanced contextual experiences, often apps that take advantage of the unique features and functions of phones and tablets.

The catch, as always, is money. Those high-end experiences run in the neighborhood of no less than $5 million, and can cost more than $50 million. That's not the kind of cash most business can afford to throw at the problem. Even with mobile advertising budgets on the rise according to a recent IAB study, only the top 16 percent of spenders are investing more than $500 thousand.

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