“Always-on commerce” is a subtle but significant evolution from “everywhere commerce,” brought on by consumers’ ubiquitous connectivity, according to a new eMarketer report, “Key Digital Trends for 2014.” The upshot is consumers who are, in effect, always in the consideration phase for something and rarely more than a tap away from jumping from a physical store to a virtual store, or from one online merchant to another.
The impact of a pervasive “shopping state of mind” fostered by greater mobile connectivity is only beginning to be reflected in commerce sales forecasts. eMarketer predicts that by 2017, mobile will account for 26.0% of US retail ecommerce sales (which exclude travel and event tickets), up from 19.0% in 2014. That still translates into a small fraction of total retail sales, however.
Nick Hodson, partner at Booz & Co., put his finger on it when he explained: “Smartphone use is more or less continuous. [It] doesn’t say anything about whether the use has anything to do with shopping, but it does mean that [it has] a large part of the consumer’s mindshare during that shopping mission. The shopping trip starts earlier and ends later than it used to.” In other words, even if consumers are not consciously shopping, they are shopping nonetheless. It is about state of mind as much as intent and physical location.
Though mobile still accounts for such a small share of US retail sales, this shift is further along in more digitally advanced markets like the UK, where mobile will account for an estimated 24% of retail ecommerce sales in 2014, and rise to 35% in 2017. Mcommerce also is growing at a far faster clip in the UK. Retail mcommerce sales in that country will increase 53.3% in 2014, eMarketer estimates—more than triple the 15% growth rate for retail ecommerce.
Tablet commerce is emerging as key to the overall mobile retail equation. For now, however, smartphones provide more attainable access to the much-larger segment of consumers in both developed and emerging markets who can afford to buy only one device.
The combination of portability, connectivity and relative affordability gives the smartphone a privileged place in driving always-on commerce. Unlike tablets, smartphones are more frequently used on the go, often to assist in a purchase that in many cases does not necessarily terminate on the device. Even if tablets generate far higher on-device sales, smartphones play a unique role as the fulcrum between digital and physical retail.