This spring, Forrester Research issued a Mobile And Tablet Commerce Forecast. The report makes an assertion that’s common in marketing these days: Mobile technology is changing everything in commerce.
Forrester claims, “…unlike the newly minted online shoppers from the late 1990s and 2000s, mobile users today are demonstrating a much quicker uptake of mobile shopping”. A much quicker uptake of mobile shopping? On what basis are they making this claim?
The image you see here was sent out by Forrester Research to get marketers interested in its forecast, and in the services associated with it. It appears to show a trend of remarkable growth in sales from smartphones and tablets.
Of course, these are predictions, and they’re not based on anything so solid as physical science. They’re based upon notoriously unsteady economic projections and cultural presumptions about what the future will be like, with rapidly changing conditions unlike anything that’s ever been experienced before. So, a jump from 16% of online shoppers making purchases from their smartphones two years ago to 44% doing so next year might happen, but it might not.
Putting the uncertainty of predictions in a turbulent tech marketplace aside, what about Forrester’s claim of a “much quicker uptake of mobile shopping” taking place now, compared to the previous two decades?
The truth is, it would be nearly impossible for uptake of mobile shopping not to be quicker right now, as mobile shopping was practically non-existent in the 1990s and 2000s. The more important question is whether very many purchases will be made with tablets and smartphones, compared to with other methods, such as laptop and desktop computers, and good old fashioned physical stores.
The answer to this more important question, even given Forrester Research’s optimistic projections, is no. It’s important to pay close attention to what Forrester is talking about when it refers to the future of purchases made through mobile devices. When Forrester says that next year, 39% of online buyers will make purchases using a tablet mobile device, it isn’t describing what 39% of the general population does. Many Americans choose not to buy anything online, after all. But, even within the smaller population of online buyers, Forrester is predicting that a strong majority, 61%, will not make any purchases at all using a tablet mobile device next year.
These predictions aren’t even forecasting the number of shoppers who will make substantial numbers of purchases using mobile devices. They’re only predicting how many people who are already buying online will choose to make even just one purchase next year using a smartphone or tablet. Forrester Research’s own numbers show that the market for purchases made through mobile tech is likely to remain quite small.
What these optimistic forecasts about mobile-based commerce actually show is that mobile devices are mostly useful to marketers as a technology for gathering information about shoppers, rather than as means for shopping in themselves.