By Chris Wraight and Charles Choe
The U.S. back-to-school shopping period is a hectic time when parents are busy purchasing items for their children such as pencils, books, electronics and new clothes; back-to-college is just as important and is now tracked separately. According to the National Retail Foundation, the 2018 total back-to-school and back-to-college spending for K-12 schools and college is projected to reach a combined $82.8 billion (back-to-school $27.5b and back-to-college $55.3b)
It is difficult to pinpoint a universally accepted period for back-to-school shopping. Some analysts are starting to view Amazon Prime Day in mid-July as the 'unofficial' start but very often retailers begin advertising the day after the prior school year ends! This Staples commercial is an all-time favorite.
Generally speaking, mid-August through Labor Day are popular times for back-to-school shopping. The Labor Day weekend offers retailers a great opportunity for sales by itself; and most parents are savvy enough to wait for the Labor Day sales to make their key purchases. For this reason, we determined the period that we would measure was from August 20, 2018 through September 4, 2018 and are defining 'back-to-school' as inclusive of 'back-to-college'.
Mobile traffic 16% higher, up to 29% on weekends
As the back-to-school statistics show, mobile sessions grew on average 16% over 2017 while desktop sessions declined 11% on average. Mobile sessions consistently outpaced desktop in 2018, compared to 2017 when desktop was more popular. This data is consistent with the increasing share of mobile web traffic worldwide, currently at 52.2%. It also echoes the trend that we reported in our 2018 State of Online Performance report as well as our May 2018 Mother's Day holiday blog. This growing mobile population now uses mobile devices to not only purchase products and services online, but other shopping related activities as well, like product reviews, price comparisons, delivery tracking, and digital wallets, all contributing to increased traffic.
On Saturdays, mobile traffic was even higher at 27% - 29%, compared to the previous year, and desktop was down 25%. This data confirms the digitization of retail between online and offline shopping, with new shifts in consumer buying behavior. With approximately 71% of shoppers comparing prices online, retailers are starting to take a mobile-centered approach to accelerate beyond transactional selling to better connect with consumers through interactive mobile experiences, in-store.
Mobile conversion rates lowest among all devices
In 2018, while overall desktop conversion rates were higher than 2017, they remained relatively flat. Interestingly, there was a drop in mobile conversion rates during this same time period, which pushed it lower than 2017 levels. This data is consistent with findings that mobile conversions still lag desktop. In a recent study by Monetate, data from 2.5 million shopping sessions in early 2017 showed that online shoppers via desktop had three times the conversion rate of mobile. Even with higher mobile traffic with shopping-related activities, like "showrooming", consumers often return to their desktops to make their final purchases.
The general lack of real estate on smaller mobile screens and the challenge of reducing multistep purchasing transactions to a simple mobile workflow can also contribute to this problem. To gain accurate insight to properly diagnose and remedy these issues, retailers need to conduct a thorough web performance assessment of their sites and mobile applications. Low conversion rates could also stem from a lack of mobile best practices - like utilizing responsive web design, optimized images, and content delivery networks (CDN). One thing is clear, the dominant growth of mobile sessions coupled with low conversion rates, makes it a prime opportunity for retailers to exploit.
All signs point to mobile devices continuing to demonstrate their dominance in the e-commerce ecosystem (or m-commerce) throughout the coming peak holiday period and beyond. Many mobile predictions, some made almost a decade ago (e.g., Mary Meeker's prediction in 2010), about the dominance of mobile have come to pass in recent years and are now gaining more momentum; this is evidenced in her 2018 Internet Trends report where year-over-year mobile application session growth was led by mobile shopping with 54%. Mobile is certainly not going anywhere but up. And to not only survive, but thrive, in this environment, retailers must shift their priorities to a mobile-first mindset that is aligned to their business objectives. Organizations need to make data-driven decisions that not only impact the bottom line but enhance the overall customer journey in order to capture larger market share, generate incremental revenue, and retain their most valuable customers. It is vital that online retailers design, optimize, and deliver web-based applications with the mobile visitor top-of-mind. Doing so will help to ensure retailers not only meet, but exceed, these expectations.
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