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Mobile marks a fundamental shift for retailers: Google

According to new research from Google, consumers are increasingly swapping out their desktops for their mobile devices globally. The research looked at findings from the United States, Germany, Britain, France and Japan and also examined how tablets are playing a role in mobile trends.

“All businesses – retailers certainly included – need to understand that mobile devices are firmly entrenched in consumers lives and smartphones have transformed how they make purchase decisions,” said Nicole Leverich, group product marketing manager for mobile ads at Google, Mountain View, CA.

“These devices are helping people find stores on the go, call businesses easily, make purchases from mobile-optimized sites and much more,” she said.

“Retailers need to understand that mobile is also changing how consumers make purchase decisions in their stores such as price comparisons.  This is a fundamental shift, and all businesses will need to adapt.”

Global mobile
The Google research looked at a set of data from January and February 2011 and compared it to data from September and October. Two thousand consumers from each country were surveyed.

Per the Google research, mobile phone usage – including both smartphones and feature phones – have the highest use rate by consumers across the board compared to desktop, tablet, ereader and game console use.

A whopping 96 percent of consumers in Japan used their mobile phones during both survey times.

Seventy-six percent of German consumers surveyed used their mobile phones from January to February 2011, and 73 percent of consumers used their device from September to October.

In the U.S., an average 77 percent of respondents said they used their mobile phones, showing how mobile penetration has spread globally.

Mobile phone penetration in France was smallest with 74 percent of consumers saying that they used their devices during the first period in 2011, but the number of consumers jumped to 80 percent in the second half of the year.

SMS is widely perceived to be the most far-reaching and effective way of reaching consumers, however according to the Google study smartphone ownership is on the rise, signaling to retailers the need to develop and promote apps, mobile Web sites and advertising campaigns.

Per the research, 31 percent of consumers in the U.S. said they owned a smartphone in the January to February polling. In the September to October findings, smartphone ownership reached 38 percent.

Britain was the country with the largest jump in smartphone ownership with an increase from 30 percent to 45 percent throughout the year.

Japan also saw a high percentage increase in smartphone ownership from six percent to 17 percent throughout the year.

Tablets were most popular in the U.S. with 9 percent of survey respondents saying they used them during January to February, and 11 percent of consumers in the September and October figures.

Tablet usage was smallest in both France and Germany with 3 percent in each country during the first polling of the year. During the second portion of surveying, tablet usage increased to 5 percent in France and six percent in Germany.

Five percent of consumers polled in Japan said they had used tablets in the first part of the year, and six percent said they used them in the second poll of the year.

Mobile browsing
The Google study also took a particularly close view at Internet access via smartphones and found that the Japanese and U.S. markets had the highest usages.

Japan ranked highest in Web usage with an average of 89.5 percent of consumers polled over both sets of data collection times saying that they accessed the Internet on their smartphones.

Coming in second with Internet usage, an average of 68 percent of U.S. consumers said they accessed the Internet via mobile.

According to the Google study, smartphone usage in the U.S. has been high in the U.S. for a substantial amount of time. An average of 26.5 percent of U.S. consumers have owned a smartphone for one to two years, and 19 percent of respondents said they had owned a smartphone for more than two years.

Smartphone ownership in Japan has been slower to catch on though, with 23.5 percent of users saying that they had only owned a smartphone within the last three months.

In France, an average of 20.5 percent of consumers surveyed during the two data set times owned said they had owned a smartphone in the past three months.

“At a high level, this research confirms that retailers need to make mobile devices – smartphones and tablets – a core part of their strategy and take into account the different ways consumers are engaging with these devices,” Ms. Leverich said.

“Mobile is mainstream and it’s time for businesses to commit to a complete strategy for the platform,” she said.

“Businesses need to think about building mobile optimized websites, preparing their stores for mobile shoppers, retraining their sales forces, building mobile-specific ad campaigns and more.”

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is editorial assistant on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York