Thursday, August 16, 2018
Business

Mobile shopping could make lines at stores obsolete

From the look of all the Amazon Prime boxes landing on my neighbor's doorstep, I don't think he has stepped foot in a store this holiday season.

And he's not the only one.

Online sales, particularly those done through a mobile device, are the top story of this year's shopping season. Consumers weary of crowds and long lines are preferring to shop from the comfort of home and, in many cases, with a drink in one hand and in the buff. But more on that later.

Cyber Monday was the biggest day in e-commerce history. Mobile sales led the way, exceeding 17 percent of total online sales, a whopping 55 percent increase over last year, according to data from IBM Digital Analytics Benchmark.

And way to click, Tampa shoppers! We ranked 10th among the nation's 100 largest cities for the most cyber sales.

"It's the year of digital and mobile,'' declared Mindy Grossman, chief executive officer of St. Petersburg-based HSN, during an interview on CNBC last week. For the first time, more than half of the shopping network's digital traffic over Thanksgiving weekend came from mobile devices.

Credit the rise of couch commerce to the monster growth in smartphones and tablets this year (even my 7-year-old wants an iPad for Christmas).

Retailers have been quick to respond, developing websites designed for smaller mobile devices with more streamlined, easy-to-load content. Gone are the days when you had to wait to get home — or to work — to log onto your desktop to add to your cart. Now you can buy everything on the go.

A recent survey by PayPal found that 86 percent of consumers planned to use a mobile device for some of their shopping this year, if they hadn't already. On Black Friday, historically the busiest shopping day of the year, the number of consumers shopping through PayPal on their mobile devices doubled compared with 2012. On Cyber Monday, mobile usage jumped 94 percent.

"Technology is shifting how consumers are shopping,'' said Stacy General, consumer experience advocate for PayPal, which provides payment services through the Internet. "They are looking to have control.''

PayPal goes as far as to predict that advances in mobile technology will make standing in line at stores obsolete in five years.

The reason boils down to convenience. PayPal's survey found that 33 percent of people like to shop in their pajamas, and 15 percent like to drink alcohol while shopping (because shelling out $329 for a Samsung Galaxy Note sure hurts less after a few glasses of wine). And about 11 percent said they like to shop in the nude — news that could have the effect of spoiling that new sweater you got from Aunt Peg.

Spend a few hours in the stores and you know that not all is calm, not all is bright. Shoppers can be pushy and rude. Store employees can be grumpy or nonexistent. There's no such thing as getting in and out of a mall fast, especially on weekends.

I was in Kmart on Friday when a customer in line started shouting at a cashier, who had to call security. Standing there waiting, it crossed my mind that we live in a state where more than 1 million people have a concealed weapon permit — about one in 19.

"I could get shot trying to buy a $6.99 snowman pin," I thought.

Fortunately, nothing bad happened, and the register scuffle ended quickly without incident. A few of us in line joked about never coming to the store again.

Thanks to the rise in mobile shopping, that might not be so far-fetched.

Susan Thurston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3110. Follow @susan_thurston on Twitter.

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