By Andria Cheng
NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--When the holiday shopping frenzy of 2011 kicks off later this month, it could be the year of the mobile shopper.
A record number of consumers will shop from their mobile devices this coming season, according to a forecast from IBM Coremetrics, which studies online data
from 500 leading U.S. retailers. And retailers seeking to tap into that trend will be forced to adapt.
"It's going to play a big part of how consumers are buying this holiday," said John Squire, chief strategy officer of IBM Coremetrics, in an interview. "Mobile users
have less patience. They are surgical shoppers. Retailers are going to have to do a really good job in targeting their messages and promotions for mobile users."
A mobile device shopper spends an average of about 4 minutes on a site, compared to a little over seven minutes for a site visit from a regular computer.
Mobile shoppers also tend to do less browsing and look at fewer products when they shop, making it more imperative for retailers to personalize messages and
content to cater to such visitors.
Among the retailers that have earned plaudits for targeting mobile users are department stores including Macy's Inc. (M) , Nordstrom Inc. (JWN) and J.C. Penney
Co. (JCP). All have launched apps based on streamlined pages specifically for mobile use, and fast downloads, designed as an alternative to conventional Web
browsing, Squire said.
As an illustration that their online and mobile strategy has paid some dividends, the department store group has posted above-average 20% online sales growth in
each month of the year so far. Adds Squire: "Retailers that saw these trends early have made some good bets and investments."
For the first time, the percentage of shoppers buying from their mobile phones is expected to rise above the double-digit threshold to 15% in November, compared
to 4.5% in last year's holiday season, and less than 1% in 2009, Squire said.
In October, 9.6% of online shoppers made purchases through their mobile devices, up from 3.4% a year earlier.
It's not just department stores that are catching on. Retailers across the board, from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) and Home Depot Inc. (HD) to Gap Inc. (GPS) and
Victoria's Secret parent Limited Brands Inc. (LTD) have been ramping up efforts to expand their online and mobile sales.
Sears Holdings Corp. (SHLD) said earlier this week that its namesake department stores and Kmart discount chain is unveiling mobile "shopping walls" located in
high-traffic areas, including movie theater lobbies, airports and bus stations. The spaces will display so-called QR (quick-response) computer-generated bar-matrix
codes for each featured toy so shoppers can buy directly from their smartphones.
Increased mobile uses and purchases also have put extra pressure on retailers including electronics giant Best Buy Co. (BBY) as consumers comparison shop from
their mobile devices while in stores.
To win over consumers doing comparison shopping and encourage early buying, Wal-Mart this holiday season will match its competitors' print advertised prices
between Nov. 1 and Dec. 25, a much bigger time window. The company also will match prices offered on Walmart.com if the prices are different form their store
Retailers also have been more proactive arming their employees with iPads or other tablet devices to better service shoppers. Sears, for instance, began rolling out
iPads and iPod Touch devices in about 450 of its Sears and Kmart stores to help customers check inventory, access product information and order products online.
Within the mobile arena, retailers may want to pay even more attention to iPad users. About 6.8% of October site visits through the iPad concluded with a purchase,
compared to a 3.6% rate on other mobile devices, Squire said.
Online sales in November are expected to rise 12% to 15% this year, IBM estimated. By comparison the National Retail Federation has forecast total holiday sales
to rise just 2.8%.
Social networks, led by Facebook, also have been an emerging factor in retail. According to the IBM data, 9.2% of consumers in October that came to a retailer's
web site from a social media site made a purchase, compared to 5.5% who visited the store site directly.
-Andria Cheng; 415-439-6400; AskNewswires@dowjones.com