Mobile Marketing and Remote Mobile Payments Transform Holiday Shopping in 2012

Navigator Edition: December 2012
By: Stephen Kiene

Early market data from the 2012 holiday shopping season confirms a well-known trend:  mobile is becoming a major factor in the evolution of retail channels, particularly e-commerce.  The 2012 Thanksgiving weekend set multiple records for mobile traffic and transaction volume as consumers continue to migrate to smartphones and tablets to complete holiday purchases.  IBM’s annual nationwide analysis of online holiday shopping showed that 16.3% of all e-commerce sales on Black Friday were carried out on a mobile device this year, with a similarly impressive 12.9% figure for Cyber Monday (Figure 1).  Both rates represent increases of over 60% compared to 2011, and they still do not take into account the emerging influence of mobile marketing and promotions at the POS.  Although a mobile tipping point may not have arrived quite yet, a large-scale transition is clearly underway.  It is becoming increasingly clear that an informed and targeted mobile strategy is now a “need to have” instead of a “nice to have” for most merchants.

Figure 1: Mobile Sales as a % of Online Sales
Source: IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark Reports.

One of the major hurdles for all players in the mobile commerce environment is designing a unique and compelling multi-channel approach that is seamless and intuitive for customers as they switch between online, mobile, and in-person transactions.  Product comparison and purchasing now occurs at new times, places, and devices as consumers are no longer tethered to a desktop or laptop computer, and consumer activity in the mobile channel is less likely to be concentrated on traditional heavy shopping days.  As a sign of consumers exerting this new independence, eBay announced this month that three consecutive Sundays (November 25th, and December 2nd and 9th) each broke its company record for daily mobile shopping volume, twice breaking a record set only a week earlier.  Mobile shopping, much like the online experience a decade ago, is in the early stages of development, but as smartphone and tablet adoption continues to grow, merchants are slowly finding new ways to effectively target and motivate customers differently in each channel, including experimenting with mobile coupons and promotions to target cell phone users wherever and whenever they shop.

From a mobile marketing perspective, most retailer efforts remain limited to text notifications or app alerts for short-term deals and sales such as their “one day only” holiday promotions.  These alerts and discount codes are a natural extension of the promotional emails that these merchants have been sending out for years, and more than half of the top 100 U.S. retailers enable mobile redemption of discount codes during checkout.  A few retailers are already using more advanced mobile technology to directly facilitate special in-store or online offers for customers.  Sears, for example, is trialing a unique “Wave2Save” kiosk in stores that transmits special savings codes to app-enabled phones, while Target remains an early innovator in delivering barcode-based mobile coupons that can be scanned at the POS.  Some of the nation’s largest retailers are also using mobile applications to help customers bridge the gap between in-store and online shopping.  Wal-Mart and Target are among several chains that have added barcode scanning features to let consumers compare prices and add products to an online list for later purchase.  The ongoing promotion of integrated mobile functionality will continue to drive growth in remote mobile payments carried out via smartphone applications and the mobile web.

The burdensome process of traditional online checkout on smaller mobile devices was typically seen as a key hindrance to wider adoption of mobile retail payments.  Over the last two years, however, digital wallet providers have been pushing their online partners to extend streamlined checkout buttons onto mobile-optimized websites as payments processors jockey to take advantage of the expanding remote payments channel.

PayPal has been effective at translating its brand awareness for online transactions into an early lead in remote mobile payments via the mobile web.  The company’s mobile Express Checkout feature (launched in 2010) uses a consumer’s PayPal login information to transfer stored payment and shipping details directly to the retailer.  This July, the company announced that it expects to process $10 billion of mobile payment volume in 2012, up from a previous projection of $7 billion announced only three months earlier and up from a total of $4 billion processed in all of 2011.  Although market sizing estimates for U.S. mobile payments volume vary widely, PayPal could process close to half of all mobile retail payments in the U.S. in 2012, if not more.

Other digital wallet competitors such as by Visa (launched in 2012) and Google Wallet (which integrated Google Checkout in 2011) are only beginning to enable the remote mobile channel.  Six of Visa’s two dozen merchant partners offer the checkout function on their mobile-optimized websites, and in November, the company announced over 50 issuer partnerships as they seek to boost customer awareness of the new digital service.  Meanwhile, Google is trying to cross-promote its checkout functionality alongside its similarly branded NFC mobile wallet, but merchant adoption is limited.  Both of these services trail PayPal in mobile acceptance, even on sites such as which partners with all three but enables only PayPal on its mobile-optimized site. (Figure 2)

Figure 2: Digital Checkout Features (Acceptance and Branding)

Source: Retailer websites.

As smartphones surpass 50% of the U.S. mobile phone market and tablets gain popularity, mobile payments will play an important role in the evolution of the retail marketplace.  The growth of POS mobile wallets will only increase the multi-channel integration needed to simultaneously facilitate customer transactions in the online, in-store, and remote mobile channels.  The race for mobile wallet branding, processing, and marketing is already underway, and as this holiday shopping season clearly demonstrates, customers are quickly becoming comfortable using mobile payments technology in new and innovative ways.

For more information, please contact Stephen Kiene, Consultant specializing in Mobile Commerce & Alternative Payments,

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