Mobile is King: The Continued Shift of Customer Purchase Habits in 2019


2019 saw the next major shift in online shopping behavior, with mobile shopping finally accounting for the majority of ecommerce conversions during the busiest weekends of the holiday shopping season.

Written by Keith Karlick, Principal at Mercutio

  • Keith Karlick
  • Keith Karlick Principal - Mercutio

Q: What percent of holiday-season ecommerce sales take place via mobile?

Keith: “Since 2008, ecommerce as a whole has accounted for an ever-growing—and therefore increasingly important—chunk of total retail sales in the US. According to Internet Retailer, from roughly 5 percent of total retail sales in 2008, to roughly 14 percent in 2018, we’ve seen ecommerce share of total retail sales increase by about a percentage point every year for the past ten years. In 2019, over the Thanksgiving/Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend, mobile ecommerce drove 33 percent of traffic to retail sites, an increase of 46 percent year-over-year. Of this traffic, 54 percent came from smartphones, an increase of 19 percent year-over-year.”

  • 2008 online sales
  • 2018 online sales

Q: Do you think the rise of ecommerce means the end of brick-and-mortar retailers?

Keith: “Not at all. In fact, the two seem to complement each other well. In 2019, ‘BOPIS’—aka ‘buy online, pickup in store’ grew 43 percent year over year. Larger retailers, in particular, experienced success with this approach during the holiday season. It would seem likely that this trend will continue and even expand to include smaller retailers, with COVID limiting in-store shopping, but shoppers embracing curbside pickup.”

Q: What are some of the issues preventing mobile ecommerce from accounting for even more of total ecommerce sales?

Keith: “Performance, by which I mean speed. According to Google, 53 percent of mobile site visitors will leave a page that takes longer than three seconds to load. The average load time for a mobile page is 15.3 seconds. That’s a killer. As Google puts it, “Speed equals revenue.” In fact, if a mobile site takes more than 10 seconds to load, the likelihood the user will bounce increases by 123 percent. That’s why it’s crucial for mobile ecommerce sites to load in under three seconds. And to make sure that’s happening, you need to test, test, test.”

“Speed equals revenue.

  • Google

Q: Where can ecommerce businesses focus their resources in order to see the best “bang for their buck?”

Keith: “BigCommerce has some great info on this. According to their research, paid search ranked highest for driving revenue over Thanksgiving weekend last year, up 5.2 percent year-over-year at nearly 25 percent. That’s huge. After that, direct traffic—which results from awareness campaigns and branding—accounted for about 21 percent of revenue, while natural search accounted for nearly 19 percent. And don’t neglect email; according to the same research, email marketing accounted for nearly 17 percent of revenue during the same time period. Email typically provides the strongest conversion rate but often has the lower total revenue than other channels, because of the effort required to grow email lists significantly. That said, email is a great place to see the best bang for the buck.”

    Revenue Drivers from Thanksgiving Weekend Last Year

  • Paid Search
  • Direct Traffic
  • Natural Search

Q: Which channels perform best?

Keith: “In terms of conversion rate by traffic source, email wins handily, with a 3.15 percent conversion rate. Owned content also converts well, at about 2.6 percent, and direct traffic isn’t far behind, at about 2.26 percent. As for search engines, Google dominates, with more than 87 percent of total traffic. That said, it’s interesting to note that Bing’s conversion rate is higher than Google’s: 2.41 percent vs. 1.37 percent.”

  • Email Conversion
  • Owned Content Conversion
  • Direct Traffic Conversion

Q: Is social media marketing worthwhile?

Keith: “Yes, and Facebook and Instagram dominate. Facebook accounts for 41 percent of unpaid mobile search traffic, and Instagram—owned by Facebook—accounts for 24 percent of unpaid: that’s 65 percent right there, and paid Facebook search adds another 12 percent. So, in total, you’re looking at about 77 percent of mobile traffic on social coming from Facebook and Instagram. There will always be specific reasons to be visible on other channels, but Facebook dominates in eyeballs.. However, That said, the conversion rate for all social channels is low; Facebook (unpaid) is by far the highest, at 1.83 percent. So yes, it’s worthwhile to be on social for engaging with customers, but not for selling.”

Q: What does all this mean for online retailers?

Keith: “One of the most important takeaways is that retailers’ relationships with their customers have never been more important; the higher the level of customer engagement, the higher the conversion rate. Something else to consider: email continues to convert well, particularly among customers who are familiar with a retailer’s brand. Aside from those points, Facebook is a great tool for driving awareness, and organic and paid search are both valuable in terms of conversions.

Perhaps the most crucial thing for retailers to remember is that mobile is fast becoming the dominant platform consumers use to shop online. For that reason, it’s vital to optimize for mobile—both design and site speed—in order to drive continued ecommerce success.

Lastly, in light of the way COVID-19 has changed user habits, engagements with customers have never been more important. This example illustrates why: In March, we saw Amazon prioritizing “essential” products, which left many brands selling on their platform out in the cold. Amazon will always win on price and fulfillment, but brands can make it a point to own the relationship with the customer, which is honestly more important.”

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