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How Mobile Gets Holiday Retail Down The Home Stretch

Well it’s over.

As you are reading this, it’s no longer possible to order holiday presents online in time for a Christmas Eve delivery, unless of course you happen to live in one of the 13 same-day delivery cities in the U.S. that Amazon services. Or buy an eGift card.

For the majority of nation’s e-commerce enthusiasts, the holiday online shopping season is over. Mobile’s time to shine – by enabling payments from countless tablets and devices nationwide – is presumably over, too. The era of retiring to the living room and preparing for holiday shopping by perusing the digital discounts on one’s tablet while watching the TV season come to a close is over.

That can only mean one thing: The civility of organized e-commerce has overnight given way to the adrenaline rush that is live-action, brick-and-mortar shopping on the last big day of the season. Malls, neglected for the rest of the year, today on Christmas Eve, will be the battlefield where epic procrastinators and die-hard bargain seekers meet and fight for their share of the holiday lucre.

And, as recent data from eMarketer indicates, those last minute shoppers might not want to holster those smart devices just yet – as they still have an important role to play.

Mobile use has certainly seen an uptick during the 2014 retail season. PayPal reported total mobile volume was up 52 percent during the holiday shopping season’s “kick-off” weekend, with the biggest increase – 62 percent – seen on Black Friday (when curiously, shoppers also really got going with e-commerce at around 1 p.m. EST). The climb on Cyber-Monday was less steep but still notable at 39 percent.

PayPal’s experience was indicative of a generally positive trend for e-commerce during 2014. On the whole e-commerce figures have been strong this holiday season – sales online were up dramatically on Thanksgiving and Black Friday, Walmart set a record for page views (that was promptly smashed by its online activity Cyber Monday), over half of all e-commerce traffic on Thanksgiving came from mobile. The stats go on and on.

However, while mobile’s numbers are going up, far and away the vast majority of all commerce during the holiday season takes place where it takes place during the physical year – in a physical store. Mobile, however is changing how that real world shopping is happening.

“It was fascinating for me to see the photos of shoppers this year in the brick-and-mortar stores whose carts were filled,” PayPal’s Head of Global Consumer Initiatives, Pablo Rodriguez, told MPD CEO Karen Webster in a recent interview. Rodriguez was describing the mass media images of Black Friday he saw this year. “I think there’s still the importance of ‘the get’ for those who want to go out in stores and explore. But even those consumers are still using their mobile devices to compare prices and to even shop for items online while waiting in line to pay.”

And as it turns out, Rodriguez’s impressions are born out by the polling conducted earlier this month by Market Track. Price-checking in real-time while shopping is most prevalent among 21 to 29-year-olds, who say they do so a majority (53 percent) of the time. Almost as likely to price check are Gen Xers (48 percent), who interestingly are much more likely to use the smartphone/tablet to actually purchase something – 20 percent of 30-39 year-olds have used their smart devices to make a purchase, as opposed to only 11 percent of younger millennials. Somewhat older buyers, aged 40 to 49 use their devices to check prices a little under a quarter of the time, while shoppers age 50 to 59 use their devices only 12 percent of the time.

Additional data gathered in September 2014 study by the e-tailing group indicated that mobile devices were also often acting as a starting ground for purchases that were eventually completed in person.

According to the study, 78 percent of smart tech users looked up store information such as hours and location, while about three-quarters were looking for coupons and promotions and checking for sales and specials. Half reported an intention to purchase gifts through their phone.

A different September 2014 study, a poll by Deloitte, additionally found that 68 percent of U.S. Internet users had some plans to “webroom” this holiday season—or go online to research a product to be purchased in person. Retailers are in fact turning this consumer tendency to webroom and shop in person into an advantage in generating sales – with buy online, pick-up in-store models, consumers can get the best of both worlds with buying on the go, and immediate pick-up, while retailers get the benefits of the assured sale, and added foot traffic.

“I wanted to get boots to wear on Thanksgiving and I didn’t have 10 days for shipping,” one holiday shopper told The Boston Globe. “It’s also good to be mobile and get out into the stores.”

Consumers will likely shop till they drop, or the retail clerks servicing them drop – whichever comes first. Because some things about holiday retail never changes, and as surely as there will be stores open until 10 tonight on Christmas Eve, there will be consumers waiting in line finishing off their holiday shopping. But some things do change, and this year, it’s that last minute shoppers might be standing in line in one place, but still checking their phone to see if they could still get one more better deal somewhere else.

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