Smartphones on Track to Surpass Tablet-Based E-Commerce Revenue

Smartphones have yet to reach the level of tablet-based e-commerce revenue for retailers, but soon will do so, if current strong rates of growth continue. Consider browsing activity, which already has moved decisively in the direction of smartphone-initiated visits.

In 2010, 96 percent of online retail browsing was done on desktops while only four percent took place on mobile devices.

But mobile devices now represent 51 percent of visits to retailer websites, according to Branding Brand’s Mobile Commerce Index.  

Of course, visits are one thing, revenue quite another. But it also seems mobile browsing leads to mobile purchasing, particularly from smartphones.

Retailer revenue from mobile visits was up 111 percent from May 2013 to May 2014, for example, according to Branding Brand.

Between August 2013 and August 2014, revenue from mobile orders grew 89 percent.

Keeping in mind there is a difference between market share (new orders) and installed base, revenue earned from tablet purchases continues to hold a slight lead over smartphone orders.

In August 2014 retailer website tablet revenue represented about 16 percent of total retailer site e-commerce sales. Smartphones represented about 12 percent. With the faster rate of smartphone revenue growth, it is only a matter of time before smartphone sales surpass tablet revenue.

And there is another somewhat surprising change. Though it has been rather widely supposed that larger screens are preferred for online shopping interactions, logically favoring tablets instead of smartphones, end user behavior seems to belie those assumptions.

Between August 2013 and August 2014, for example, revenue from tablet-placed online commerce grew just 18 percent, compared to the 89 percent growth of smartphone revenue over the same period.

How to interpret that data is the issue. Screen size might not be as big an issue as originally thought. Retailer mobile sites arguably are getting better. And more people are using smartphones. All could explain some of the increase in smartphone sales volume.

Other data suggests the enormity of the change that has taken place in visits to retail websites.

A year ago, tablet browsing surpassed smartphones and was expected to continue to outpace the amount of total browsing happening on smartphones.

That now seems to have reversed, as a study by Adobe shows more browsing on smartphones than tablets. The study authors argue the advent of larger-screen smartphones has slowed tablet browsing preferences.

Whatever the combination of reasons, smartphone-based commerce is eclipsing tablet-based commerce.

That might, or might not, suggest a clear trend beyond high adoption of smartphones and now slowing adoption of tablets. Since the study is based on total end user browsing activity, vastly larger numbers of smartphones--compared to the base of tablets--will make a difference.

In 2012, the number of smartphone and tablet owners in the U.S. market were roughly equivalent.

By 2013, there were nearly twice as many smartphone owners as tablet owners. In the first quarter of 2013, about 34 percent of U.S. consumers owned a tablet, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

By January 2014, a separate survey by Pew found that perhaps 32 percent of U.S. adults (18 or older) owned a tablet. Some estimates peg tablet ownership at higher levels. Some 44 percent owned a tablet in 2013, according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

At about the same time, at least 59 percent of U.S. consumers owned a smartphone, according to comScore. Smartphone ownership was twice that of tablets in 2013.
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