Mobile shopping in US will grow to $2.4 billion this year: ABI Research

In the United States, mobile shopping rose from $396 million in 2008 to $1.2 billion in 2009, and ABI Research projects 100 percent growth this year to reach $2.4 billion in 2010. In 2015, shoppers around the world are expected to spend about $119 billion on goods and services bought via mobile phones, which will represent about 8 percent of the total projected ecommerce market, according to ABI Research. These numbers show that mobile commerce, specifically shopping via the mobile Web, is reaching critical mass.

“At the tail end of 2008, a trend started to emerge where we saw some retailers putting out mobile Web sites so that consumers could get in touch with them and buy things from them,” said Mark Beccue, Tampa, FL-based senior analyst of consumer mobility at ABI Research. “Unsurprisingly, the leaders were eBay and Amazon, which have been aggressively marketing their mobile Web sites.”

“Estimates at end of 2008 for mobile shopping transactions using a mobile device were relatively small, $396 million in U.S., a small portion when you look at overall ecommerce figures of $132 billion in the U.S.,” he said. “At that time I said that people will start to do this for a number of reasons, to make impulse buys and convenient purchases such as flowers and pizza, swapping out cash transactions.”

It turned out that growth in the mobile commerce space outpaced ABI Research projections as typical use cases expanded.

2009 awakened something of a giant.

“What we’ve found over the latter part of 2009, particularly fourth quarter, is that consumers are using mobile online shopping for price-comparison purposes,” Mr. Beccue said. “The economy seemed to have something to do with this change, as people became sharper about how they were spending their money.

“Consumers actually started buying items while they’re in a physical store from somebody else using their Web-enabled handsets,” he said.

ABI Research provides analysis and quantitative forecasting of trends in global connectivity and other emerging technologies.

Mobile commerce reaches the mass market
The driver for mobile online shopping in the U.S. has been the recent sharp spike in smartphone adoption and the corresponding enthusiasm for mobile Internet, Mr. Beccue said.

Also, many more retailers have been launching mobile commerce Web sites.

“I was surprised when I reran the numbers, because my original forecast for 2009 from a year ago was around $800 million in the U.S., but my revised number for forecast for 2009 was around $400 million more,” Mr. Beccue said. “It shows that savvy consumers are taking advantage of the mobile channel for shopping purposes.”

ABI Research’s estimate of mobile purchases in the U.S. grew from $396 million in 2008 to $1.2 billion in 2009, but what is even more significant is the fact that the overall estimate of ecommerce transaction was flat year-over-year, remaining at $132 billion in the U.S.

Those numbers mean that mobile commerce represents an ever-growing slice of the ecommerce pie.

That trend led to ABI’s projection for this year. Mr. Beccue said that mobile transactions will probably double in the U.S. to reach somewhere around $2.4 billion in 2010.

Mr. Beccue said that while definitions of mass-market adoption vary, a more than fivefold increase in mobile purchases in one year indicates significant consumer interest.

Even that $1 billion-plus turnover in the U.S. is dwarfed by the size of the mobile online shopping market in Japan, which exceeded $10 billion in 2009 alone.

“In some markets mobile shopping is huge, like Japan, where almost 20 percent of ecommerce is done via mobile, which is an anomaly,” Mr. Beccue said.

This market is growing solidly in Europe too, and is expected to outpace the U.S. by the end of 2010.

A longer-term driver in global terms is the fact that in many less-industrialized regions, mobile is virtually the only way to access the Internet.

Not only does mobile online shopping allow shoppers to manage their time better, but in the fourth quarter of 2009, an interesting trend emerged: Consumers were checking out products in bricks-and-mortar retail stores and using their phones for comparison shopping.

“It appears that moving forward we’re going to see almost all merchants looking to put out a mobile Web site so they can compete, because everybody else is doing it,” Mr. Beccue said. “The mobile Web site has slightly different functionality, but merchants have tied in a shopping cart and streamlined the purchasing process so consumers can buy things quickly.”

A subset of mobile commerce is the trade in virtual goods, generally associated with online gaming.

This too has seen rapid uptake, as mobile payments are the best option for online purchases under $20 or so, and this way of shopping is especially suitable for those consumers—often young gamers—without credit cards.

All of these trends led to ABI’s prediction that mobile transactions will reach $119 billion globally in 2015.

“We will see fairly steady growth in the mobile commerce space as a result of retailers coming on board and ecommerce as a whole as growing steadily, as well as increasing mobile Internet penetration,” Mr. Beccue said. “Consumers are becoming aware of it more and more.

“We will not see an explosion so much as fairly steady growth going forward,” he said.