After social commerce, mobile commerce is the most heavily debated topic-du-jour among retailers these days. One thing that both social and mobile commerce have in common is that they are both small. Teeny in fact. Forrester’s Mobile Commerce Forecast, 2011 To 2016, which launched today, shows that retailers can expect 2% of their online web sales (yes, I said web sales which means a minuscule percent of overall retail) to be transacted through mobile devices in 2011.  While we also expect mobile commerce sales to grow 40% each year for the next five years, we’re still talking small numbers overall (7% of web sales penetration by 2016).  Why so small you may ask.  After all, aren’t smartphones changing the way we consume web content?  Some things to consider:

  • Tablets. We don’t include tablet shopping in our definition of mobile shopping, but the creation (and subsequent explosion in sales) of this device is probably the single biggest inhibitor to the growth of “mobile commerce.”  Data that we gathered with Bizrate Insights (to be released separately and soon) indicates that most tablet owners also own smartphones, and many of those people naturally prefer to shop on the device that has the larger screen when given the choice.
  • Shopping never leads web behavior. In any list of activities that people do on the Internet, shopping nearly always ranks below things like “reading news” or “using social networks.” Even those activities are not universal among the smartphone set, so it would be premature to expect that shopping would rank high on the list (which it, of course, doesn’t). 
  • Mobile “shopping” that does happen often isn’t about buying online. When consumers do use their mobile phones in a retail context, it is to look up product information as they are in the midst of researching products in a physical store, or to compare prices, which often leads to a customer demanding a price match, which naturally won’t surface in any mCommerce figures. 

So, does this mean that we’re making much ado about nothing with all the focus on mobile commerce? Not a chance. Mobile commerce will transform retail, both because the transparency of pricing will force big box stores to be much better merchants or die and because store associates armed with mobile devices can now do everything from save lost sales to carry a POS device in their hand. And the most efficient retailers won’t even have their store associates doing those things — they’ll have their customers doing them themselves.