Online spending during the November and December 2016 holiday season was up 17% over the same period in 2015, hitting $80.2 billion, driven by a 44% increase in spending via mobile devices, according to research firm comScore.
Shopping via smartphones and tablets reached $17.1 billion over the last two months of 2016, corresponding to about 21% of total holiday digital spending, compared to 17% in 2015.
Total online spending for the entire fourth quarter of 2016 was $109.3 billion, with roughly $86.6 billion of that purchasing done via desktop, and the remaining $22.7 billion done via mobile. That mobile spending figure for the whole quarter was 45% higher than for the fourth quarter of 2015.
Other post-holiday reports have suggested that holiday spending overall was up, though until now it seemed that while mobile devices definitely were involved in the holiday shopping process, they were not necessarily directly involved in actual purchases. That notion would fit well with what we have seen over the last year or two: Consumers certainly are using their mobile devices to help them shop, by searching for products, checking prices, finding store locations and other functions, but when it comes time to spend and close the sale, they head to the in-store checkout, or use a non-mobile online connection.
The latest figures from comScore seem to suggest spending via mobile is starting to turn the corner in a major way — or at least that's what happened during the busiest weeks on the 2016 shopping calendar. It could be that mobile shoppers are finally getting comfortable enough to complete entire purchases via mobile, thinking that as long as they are searching for a gift on their smartphones, why not just buy the darn thing, instead of making a point to visit the store later.
But maybe we should give retailers and creators of mobile shopping sites, apps and functions some credit, too. It could be that they heeded advice to improve the mobile shopping experience just in time for the recent holiday rush.
It's also true, however, that online shopping — or really going online for any purpose — is largely moving from the desktop to the smartphone and tablet. More of everything we do online is happening through our mobile devices. In this sense, it seems not so much a decision that consumers consciously are making or something retailers are getting better at supporting, though both of those things may be true. Still, maybe this something more like a natural evolution of events that took its own sweet time playing out. To find out if that's really the case, we'll have to see what the rest of the year brings.