The Year in E-Tail: Lessons Learned and Looking Ahead

If 2011 was a strong one for mobile commerce, it was a mere precursor to what’s expected in 2012.

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NEW YORK — If 2011 was seen as the year e-tail exploded, it was a mere precursor to what’s expected in 2012.

Mobile commerce spending on smartphones is expected to reach $10 billion this year, said Sucharita Mulpuru, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, and this projection doesn’t even include tablet shopping.

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“The holiday season in retail is the first time we saw numbers of real significance. It’s really a crystal ball for what we’re going to see in online retail in 2012,” Maureen Mullen, director of research and advisory at New York University think tank Luxury Lab, or L2, told WWD.

And the big are getting bigger. Sites such as, eBay and have outpaced the growth of smaller players, she said.

“Amazon is largely leading that charge. The interesting trend around Amazon is that it’s growing at five times the rate of overall retail and three times the rate of e-commerce in the U.S. — and the most staggering statistic is that 37 percent of m-commerce transactions occur over Amazon,” Mullen said, drawing a comparison to Wal-Mart in the Nineties, which at the time controlled 9 percent of all U.S. retail.

These numbers mean that Amazon boasts more than a third of the fastest-growing channel in retail — and, according to Mullen, this is sure to have major implications on brands and retailers as they develop their digital strategies for 2012.

EBay reached a record $5 billion in mobile purchases (from smartphones and tablets) in 2011 and predicts this number will climb to $8 billion by the end of this year, according to Steve Yankovich, vice president of eBay Mobile, who noted that the most significant lesson learned from the holiday season was that the vast majority of mobile shoppers had intent (versus just browsing or “snacking,” which Yankovich describes as when you’re “stuck with time to burn and you snack on your phone,” whether it be through texting, e-mailing or shopping).

“This also suggests is that there’s an opportunity on mobile to create an experience where they [users] will just access us to engage and discover. When they shop, we know they have intent, so for us, [it’s figuring out if] eBay can be a snack and if the consumer will browse for an item when they don’t have a purchase in mind,” Yankovich said. “We nailed intent, so the next frontier for us is to get more engagement and traction and go after browsing and discovery.”

EBay Inc.-owned PayPal estimates its mobile payment volume will hit $7 billion this year, a 75 percent increase from last year’s $4 billion, according to Anuj Nayar, director of communications. Mobile sales via PayPal went from less than $1 million in 2006, to $7 million in 2007, to $25 million in 2008 — and thanks to the introduction of the iPhone, this number jumped to $141 million in 2009 and $750 million in 2010. In just one year — from 2010 to 2011 —mobile volume multiplied by almost 600 percent.

According to experts, further mobile growth in 2012 will be fueled by offering mobile-exclusive offers to consumers; differentiating mobile experiences by device; merging mobile shopping with the in-store experience; broadening mobile and tablet capabilities beyond Apple products, and social commerce.

Nayar noted that, for the first time, a spike in shopping was seen on Thanksgiving Day right after lunch, but only with respect to mobile devices — which could be a prime time for retailers to drive sales for the next holiday shopping season with limited-time offers available via mobile.

Another wrinkle to the differentiating-the-mobile-experience-by-device equation relies on the convergence of mobile and in-store commerce.

Gary Lombardo, manager of e-commerce solution Demandware, which works with clients such as Tory Burch, Kate Spade, Crocs, Barneys New York and Elie Tahari, believes that merging m-commerce and brick-and-mortar under the same roof will revolutionize the entire shopping experience.

“There are a ton of retailers who have seen a lot of mobile traffic to their sites — [and] the sister part of that is mobile transcending into the store. [This will] really bring Web commerce specifically into the store and extend inventory from the online channel,” Lombardo said of stores ramping up the usage of mobile devices and tablets. “Retail is really trying to change its model because of the whole online channel, [and] mobile is helping to exacerbate that. Stores are using in-store mobile capabilities to leverage and give consumers access to inventory that might not be available — but in all the brand’s stores.”

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