Can 2013’s Holiday Shopping Season Help Quell the Uncertainties over Mobile?

A single number caught our team off guard several weeks ago. As we reviewed the final results from our 2013 Retail Compass Survey of CMOs, there was one stat that caused us to double-take: when asked whether or not they planned to include mobile strategies in their 2013 holiday marketing playbook, only 38 percent of CMOs said they were.

At first, we were taken aback. This number represented a full 12 percentage point drop from 2012, when half of retail CMOs responded that they were utilizing mobile platforms. Take into account, too, that mobile commerce has been increasingly bolstering retail sales throughout 2013, and, suddenly, this 38 percent data point seems, well…nonsensical. Or does it?

Well before this year’s holiday season began, many were predicting that m-commerce would play an even more significant part in helping retailers drive sales during the year’s busiest shopping season than it did in 2012. Predictions from eMarketer cited an expected 15 percent rise in holiday e-commerce sales, with mobile projected to encompass 16 percent of total U.S. e-commerce volume in 2013.

So far, these predictions have panned out nicely. According to Adobe, mobile accounted for $419 million of Cyber Monday sales—a full 18.3 percent of all online sales. Additionally, IBM reported that almost 43 percent of this year’s Thanksgiving e-commerce traffic occurred via smartphone or tablet this year. In terms of mobile’s success in actually converting sales, AOL Networks noted that mobile marketing seals the deal 35 percent of the time.  In other words, the marketplace is merrily mobile this holiday season.
Therefore, the question remains: why—given mobile’s impressive results and growth potential—would retailers choose not to leverage mobile strategies this year?

Above all, there’s an important caveat to keep in mind as we try to explain this paradox: mobile commerce is still emerging. On one hand, there’s little doubt that its scope is growing. In fact, results from our CMO Survey actually support this trend. Of the CMO’s that did plan to use mobile marketing strategies this holiday season, their average mobile expenditure grew significantly year-over-year, from 5.9 percent of their total marketing budget in 2012 to 15 percent in 2013.

On the other hand, for those retailers who are still hesitant to fully commit to mobile, two concerns remain top of mind. First, best practices for mobile marketing have yet to be solidified. As our year-over-year CMO Survey data indicate (see graphs below), retailers have shifted the focus of their holiday mobile marketing strategies. While no single approach has surfaced as the sure-fire best practice, text message campaigns have risen in popularity during 2013, and mobile flash sales have declined sharply.

Partly in response to this uncertainty over best practices, there also remain stubborn objections within some companies concerning mobile’s actual ROI and future market scope. Still, as more positive results and projections surface, and as retailers continue to experiment with different strategies and technologies to attract and engage consumer via mobile, these concerns will gradually decrease.

As this year’s holiday shopping season winds down, our team will be keeping a close eye on mobile commerce and its role in driving sales. Check back with us in mid-January for a follow-up piece, in which Ted Vaughan will be discussing the current state of mobile commerce overall, along with its future scope and possibilities. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the mobile boom, and how you’re meeting the opportunity. Please feel free to comment or reach out to me directly at