Over half of online sales made through mobiles

A major digital tipping point has been reached – with the percentage of UK online retail sales made through mobile devices exceeding 50% for the first time.

Smartphones and tablets accounted for 51% of UK online retail sales in the fourth quarter of last year, marking a substantial increase on the 45% recorded in Q3 – and up from 40% in Q4 last year.

According to e-retail specialist IMRG, 49% of sales are now made on a desktop or laptop, 33% on tablets and 18% on smartphones.

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Visits to retail websites via mobile devices accounted for two-thirds (66%) of traffic in Q4, up from 63% in the previous quarter. This compares with 53% in Q4 last year.

This leap in mobile penetration appears to be being driven by increased confidence in using smartphones for online shopping.

Sales growth through these devices rose sharply in 2015, while growth through tablets reached a record low in December 2015, IMRG said.

Tina Spooner, CIO of IMRG, said: “Smartphones have played an important role in the overall online shopping process for a long time – often used for research and comparison on the go – but over the past year they have really started to become a major component of the checkout process too and that is what is driving this leap in mobile penetration. In January sales via smartphones grew 95.6% year-on-year for example – over 7x the rate of those via tablets.”

Back in 2014 the rate of growth via smartphones appeared to be slowing down, but last year it shocked analysts by climbing sharply again.

“The main reason for this is likely to be related to the design trend for larger screens, but many mobile retail sites have improved significantly to give a far better experience and inspire confidence in shoppers,” explained Spooner. “There is also the fact that we increasingly use our smartphones for managing so much of our lives – it’s only logical that completing purchases on retail sites would gravitate over to these devices as well.”

Richard Tremellen, retail insight and data specialist at Capgemini, which produces the data with IMRG, said the figures illustrate that retailers are embracing the potential that the mobile channel can offer in reaching customers.

“This is a very significant milestone in the history of the online retail sector and reflects the work retailers have put into improving the customer experience on smartphones. Not only have mobile platforms become more secure, but the payment process is also much slicker. The result is smartphone conversion rates that are 70-80% higher than this time last year,” he concluded.

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