LONDON (AdAge.com) -- Consumers are turning to mobile handsets to purchase everything from gift vouchers to flat-screen TVs, and retailers around the world are struggling to keep up with the pace of change.
In the U.K., mainstream retailers are ahead of the curve in developing mobile websites and apps in order to harness the potential of m-commerce, which technology analyst Ovum predicts will bring in $41 billion in global revenues by 2014, up from $7.7 billion in 2007.
Scott Seaborn, head of mobile technologies at Ogilvy Group U.K., reports that one unnamed U.K. High Street retailer estimates that it loses 12% of sales from people who purchase via a mobile channel while still in-store. He said, "The boundaries are beginning to blur between using a handset and a laptop. Mobile is becoming so significant in human behavior."
Marks & Spencer and John Lewis, the two most traditional names on the British High Street, are both embracing m-commerce with dedicated mobile sites. Marks & Spencer recently sold two sofas for $5,200 via mobile, and since May its site has had 1.2 million unique visitors and more than 10 million page views. The company's main website has 4 million customers.
John Lewis this week announced that it was launching a mobile-optimized version of its highly successful website and is looking at app development once the site has been successfully launched. Jonathon Brown, head of online selling at John Lewis, said, "Our customers' appetite for mobile commerce has grown enormously and our focus has been on developing a site with a seamless experience. Mobile is a vital part of our vision to become the leading multi-channel retailer in the U.K."
Marks & Spencer is sticking with just a mobile site for now. The company's social and mobile commerce development manager, Sienne Veit, said, "We have chosen not to go for apps because we wanted to reach all of our customers. Every person on the U.K. High Street is our customer, so we don't expect all of them will have the kind of phone that has an app."
U.K. consumers are ahead of their European counterparts, according to a survey by France Telecom's Orange, which shows that 40% of them have used m-commerce in the last six months, and 40% are likely to do so in the future. In France, only 28% have used m-commerce in the last six months.
On eBay, Brits -- account for 65% of the items bought through the eBay app across the whole of Europe -- bought more items through its mobile app in one month than French consumers purchased in the whole of 2009.
In the U.K. on average an item is bought through the eBay app every 12 seconds, followed by Germany with a purchase every 35 seconds.
Malcolm Pinkerton, a senior analyst at Verdict Research, said, "M-commerce revenues are growing at a rapid rate. Shoppers are becoming increasingly sophisticated [but] there are only a handful of retailers that have properly caught on and are catering for m-commerce shoppers."
The Internet Advertising Bureau asked retailers what was stopping them from developing their m-commerce capabilities. Jon Maw, the IAB's head of mobile, said, "In our research, 41% of retailers said they will have a mobile presence in the next 12 months, but still 39% think consumers are not ready for mobile. They're wrong. People are comfortable very quickly with buying on mobile -- [online grocery store] Ocado says that 15% of its sales are made or altered through mobile apps. Consumers are willing to buy stuff on their mobiles as long as the experience is a good one."