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Gas Prices & Economy Will Hurt Stores

More Blogs from Jennifer Lynn

High gas prices and the rotten economy will push just over half of Americans to shop online this holiday season, according to a new survey that underscores the need for retailers to maintain an effective online and mobile presence.

Fifty-one percent of Americans will shop online for economic reasons, with 71 percent believing they'll find better deals there than in stores, according to the survey by Harris Interactive.

The study, commissioned by Soasta Inc., a mobile and cloud testing company, surveyed 2,346 Americans over the age of 18 between September 17 and 19. It found only 2 percent of Americans didn't feel the economy was in bad shape.

"The results of our holiday and the economy survey have shown that more Americans will be relying on retailers' online mobile and Web presence for holiday shopping due to the bad economy than not," Soasta CEO Tom Lounibos said in a statement. "With millions of Americans planning on using these Websites, it's more important than ever that they are fully optimized to make sure shoppers get the best experience possible."

Mobile will play an even bigger role this year than last, when IBM estimated that 67 percent of Black Friday shoppers would use mobile phones to buy the best deal. The new study found a similar percentage (68 percent) will use mobile apps this year for such reasons as: finding deals on Cyber Monday and Black Friday (52 percent); avoiding checkout lines (46 percent); and taking pictures of gifts they want for themselves (33 percent).

And it won't stop there. Juniper Research reported separately this week that it expects mobile shoppers to rise by 50 percent over the coming two years, to 580 million by the end of 2014 from about 393 million today. Total mobile transactions will reach $730 billion within five years; mobile sales already exceed those on desktops and laptops, Juniper said.

The key message for retailers is: be ready, especially on the mobile front. Mobile commerce in the US is expected to reach $11.6 billion this year, according to Forrester Research.

What works?
Succeeding in mobile is all about strategy and trends. The best retail Internet and mobile sites display innovation, creativity, and technology.

Much can be learned by following industry leaders, particularly in making it easy for customers to check out. For example, Econsultancy recently reviewed mobile checkout and other features at the Top 10 US retailing sites.

It found Walmart's pages were "extremely basic," so they were easy to navigate. Office Depot forced customers to set up an account but had a speedy, one-page checkout. Sears was the only store that accepts PayPal, which is wildly popular with younger shoppers.

Econsultancy offered this advice to retailers:

  • Don't require customers to register before checkout
  • Keep forms to a minimum
  • Reassure shoppers about security, and
  • Offer payment options beyond credit and debit cards.

Editor in Chief Tom Murphy contributed to this report.