Jul 18, 2012

Why Mobile Search Is Critical, Even if Your Store Does Not Sell Online

While the debate over whether mobile commerce will ever become a significant direct sales channel for outdoor retailers rages on, one thing is no longer debatable: The mobile channel has become hugely important to all retailers for the same reason local search is and the local phone book used to be.

Even if your store does not sell online, an abundance of research shows that making your store accessible to smartphone users should be a key part of your search engine optimization strategy.

The Pew Research Center estimated that 46 percent of Americans owned a smartphone in May 2012, up from 35 percent a year earlier. Last month, the research organization estimated that 17 percent of cell phone users do most of their online browsing on their phones.

ForeSee Research predicts mobile devices are destined to become the dominant platform for online shopping as more Americans turn to their smartphones to research the price and availability of products at local businesses. During the holidays last year, the firm estimates 38 percent of online shoppers used a mobile phone to access a retail website, mobile site or mobile app, up from 33 percent in 2010. Thirty-four percent used a mobile phone to research products.

Equally important numbers for brick-and-mortar retailers come from GroupM, the search marketing division of the global advertising agency WPP. In an October 2011 report, a survey commissioned by GroupM revealed that 86 percent of in-store buyers were influenced by online product search. This backs up work by Forrester Research, which has estimated that 48 percent of all retail sales — more than $1 trillion a year — are either made on the web (8 percent) or are web-influenced.

Going forward, a growing percentage of online research will be done by people using small-screened smartphones. By Christmas 2012, most researchers agree there will be at least 100 million smartphone users in the United States. IBM estimates that 18.3 percent of traffic to online retail sites last Christmas Day came from mobile devices. This was more than double the level in 2010. ListMyBusiness.net reports that mobile marketing accounted for 7.65 percent of all search engine spending in the first quarter and is expected to reach 16 to 20 percent by the end of 2012.

Yelp, which allows people to review local businesses, estimates that approximately 40 percent of all searches conducted on its site in the first quarter were made via its mobile app. This translates to about 6.3 million unique mobile devices. About 71 million people visited the site in the first quarter to access its 27 million local business reviews. Yet many businesses never claim their free business listing on Yelp.

What all these numbers mean is that optimizing your website for mobile search is very important, even if your store doesn’t operate an e-commerce site. The good news for smaller retailers with limited budgets is that mobile search is still in its infancy and there are plenty of ways to make your existing site mobile-ready without investing in a separate site or shopping app. (See related story – Streamlining Site Design.