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Mobile lives up to hype as catalyst in online back-to-school sales: report


Retailers that invested in mobile this back-to-school season saw a boom in traffic and sales, evidenced by two new reports from IBM and Placed.

A new report from IBM finds that both mobile traffic and commerce significantly increased this year and will impact holiday mobile spend from retailers. In addition, Placed’s findings single out retailers including JCPenney and Costco as go-to stores for mobile consumers looking for last-minute deals this year.

“Most retailers were forecasting a lackluster back-to-school season,” said Jay Henderson, global strategy program director of the EMM Group at IBM, Armonk, NY.

“The bright spot seems to be online sales, which saw substantial gains from July through the third week in August,” he said.

“Back-to-school is second only to Christmas in retail sales, making it one of the largest and most important retail shopping seasons. As retailers and marketers prep for the upcoming holiday with increased investments in mobile technologies, back-to-school sales benefited strongly. We anticipate that the growth in mobile traffic and mobile sales retailers will continue through the holiday shopping season.”

Driving back-to-school sales
IBM’s research points to mobile as being big for bricks-and-mortar and online retailers for longer periods of time this year.

IBM’s Digital Analytics Benchmark found that mobile sales were up 38 percent for the entire month of July year-over-year.

Additionally, mobile sales spiked 37.6 percent during the month compared to July 2012, representing 22 percent of online sales in July.

Specifically, mobile sales jumped during the second week of July, which is before many of the Christmas in July sales.

According to IBM, mobile raked in 23.2 percent of sales during the second week of 2012, and mobile traffic hit a peak at 30.9 percent of traffic.

IOS devices were the most popular device, followed by Android phones and tablets.

Given mobile’s role in back-to-school shopping, it is likely that the medium will play an even greater role for retailers this holiday season.

Mobile expands holiday shopping
Placed’s new “Back-to-School Shopping: 2013” report surveyed more than 12,000 smartphone owners within its Placed Questions feature, which includes mobile surveys with location-based information on shoppers.

As opposed to previous years, consumers began back-to-school shopping later this year, according to the findings.

Fifty-eight percent of consumers began shopping less than one month before school began, and 25 percent of consumers shopped after the school year had already begun.

The mobile-wielding parents who chose to finish shopping after school began were 34 percent more likely to visit Costco than an average consumer. Twenty-two percent of late mobile shoppers were more prone to shop at JCPenney than the average consumer.

This suggests that the mobile shoppers were looking for heavy discounts on items, meaning that the medium has extended the back-to-school season for retailers.

The research also points to the increasing reliance that mass merchants and big box retailers are banking on to drive in-store traffic from mobile shoppers.

Other retailers that skewed towards mobile users that shopped late included Kmart, Office Depot and Office Max, all of which typically offer big discounts during back-to-school time.

Electronic retailers such as Best Buy and RadioShack were less likely to be visited by last-minute mobile shoppers. Certain specialty retailers including Kohl’s and Target were also less likely to be picked by last-minute shoppers.

When it comes to how mobile parents plan to use their devices, 48.9 percent planned to use their devices to access coupons or deals.

Roughly 39 percent of consumers plan to use their devices to compare prices, and about 20 percent planned to shop directly from their devices.

An additional 30 percent of parents expected to either find a store location or make a shopping list via their mobile device.

“Brand and category are key factors in where a mobile user chooses to shop,” said David Shim, CEO/founder at Placed, Seattle.

“For example, the office supply stores tend to cluster together in terms of audience and purchase behaviors where they are more likely to be visited by consumers who plan to use a smartphone for back-to-school shopping and shopping for supplies after the start of school,” he said.

“Select retailers are set to experience an extended back to school season, but it’s not clear mobile is the driver, rather it appears to be more the brand, category and shifts in consumers’ shopping behaviors determining timing of purchases.”

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Commerce Daily, New York